"We are getting an overly naive interpretation of genetic discoveries'' - Patricia Baird University of British Columbia geneticist and former head of the Royal Commission on Reproductive Technologies
The first item provides some much needed scientific realism to accompany the recent stock market realsim about human genomics and the products it may spawn, while the second item helps give the lie to the idea so often presented of biotech wonder drugs.
How is the myth maintained? Recently, Peter Singer & Abdallah Daar wrote in Nature Biotechnology: "The future looks bright for health biotechnology. However, a decade ago, the future also looked bright for agricultural biotechnology... Is such a reversal of fortune possible in health care biotechnology...? Some will dismiss the proposition, arguing that genetically engineered drugs, like recombinant human insulin, have been used without controversy..." [Nature Biotechnology, Volume 18:12 p. 1225, December 2000]
"Without controversy" yet, according to the second article below, in the UK alone GM "human insulin" may have caused the deaths of 70 people.
1. A geneticist's genome caution
2. DIABETIC TO SUE DOCTORS OVER GM INSULIN
1. A geneticist's genome caution
Wednesday, January 10, 2001
A geneticist's genome caution: Wellness, for most of us, is driven by how we live, UBC's Baird says Sarah Galashan
What we eat, whether we smoke and how much we earn affects our health as much as our genes do, University of B.C. geneticist Patricia Baird warned Tuesday. And for that reason, she said, the public should be wary of the hype about the Human Genome Project and its potential to be a medical panacea. Scientists from around the world have been charting the genetic make-up of humans since the 1980s in the belief that a map of human DNA could lead to cures for everything from Parkinson's Disease to breast cancer.
Essentially they hope to identify the problem gene, remove it from an infected embryo and prevent illness. But Baird, head of the Royal Commission on Reproductive Technologies from 1989 to 1993, told a meeting on the University of B.C. that governments are over-investing in the research and it is not the cure-all they are hoping for.
The UBC professor was critical of what she called the ``veritable media blitz'' that occurs weekly as scientists release new findings that link specific diseases with human genes. ``We are getting an overly naive interpretation of genetic discoveries,'' Baird said, adding that such news is often less dramatic than it appears. Very few people, about four per cent of the population, suffer from diseases caused by a single flawed gene, she said, and equally few people stand to benefit from genetic technologies that focus on such diseases. ``The determinants of chronic . . . diseases are complex,'' she said, warning her audience that environmental, social and nutritional aspects of disease are being ignored at society's peril.
Other medical research has shown socio-economic factors as well as geography have significant influence over a person's health, Baird said. ``The more you earned the less likely you are to die early,'' she said Baird, suggesting more research along those lines should be funded by health care systems around the world. Meanwhile, she said, investment firms looking to capitalize on the new science say there are untold profits to be made in the world of genomics -- the term used to describe the cash flow into the biotechnology industry worldwide. In 1999, more than $400 million poured into B.C.'s biotech industry alone, up from just over $200 million in 1998. As clinical trials end and new medicines are marketed, Baird said, biotechnology companies will capitalize on the public's anxiety to remain in good health. But she warned: ``There will be no genetic magic bullets to [get rid of] genetic disease.''
DIABETIC TO SUE DOCTORS OVER INSULIN BODY
Evening News (Edinburgh) January 8, 2001, Monday
AN Edinburgh-born diabetic is suing doctors in the hope of changing the way thousands of people are treated for the condition. Derek Beatty, 49, nearly died as a result of an undetected hypoglycaemic attack. Now he hopes to prove the insulin treatment he received was to blame - and that it changed his personality, making him aggressive. His problems started when doctors switched his animal insulin treatment for a genetically modified version, allegedly failing to tell him about the possible side effects. The former Edinburgh medical sales representative says the new drug masked the warning signs of the attack, which triggered a change in his behaviour, even leading him to attack his ex-wife. The 49-year-old is demanding pounds 230,000 compensation for what he claims was medical negligence and psychological damage. And his case could open the floodgates for hundreds of other diabetics who also claim to have suffered from side-effects. Speaking from his home in St Albans, Herts, Mr Beatty, now remarried, said: "I lost everything - my ex-wife, my only daughter. I could not work and all because the doctors changed my insulin without explaining any side effects."
He added: "I'm hoping this will lead the way for others. I have no doubt that at least 70 people in the UK have lost their lives as a result of incorrect treatment."
Mr Beatty will have his latest action heard at Watford County Court on Friday. No-one at Mount Vernon Hospitals NHS Trust which Mr Beatty is suing was available for comment.
'The criminals of capitalism'
'Do we ever stop to wonder what happens to suppposedly impartial academic medical research when giant pharmaceutical companies donate whole biotech buildings and endow professorships at the universities and teaching hospitals where their products are tested and developed? There has been a steady trickle of alarming cases in recent years where inconvenient scientific findings have been suppressed or rewritten, and those responsible for them hounded off their campuses with their professional and personal reputations systematically trashed by the machinations of public relations agencies in the pay of the pharmas.'
from a piece by John le Carré on the research behind his latest book