My piece on Pharmacogenics is up on THE NEXT BIG THINK site this week! (thanks Andy)

I imagine that very few people outside of the medical research community have heard the word pharmacogenomics — and I would have been one of those people if it hadn’t been for a man with a gnome-like beard named Bob Pollack. Pollack, a research biologist at Columbia University, recently taught a course titled “Evolution, DNA, and the Soul” at Auburn Theological Seminary — an attempt on the seminary’s part to train clergy and seminary students to respond to the intelligent design creationists with the language of reality-based science. “Every health insurance company CEO in America would love to get a DNA sample from you. Why?” asked Pollack, a liberal Orthodox Jew. “Because now that we have mapped the human genome, we can also get a fairly accurate picture of your longevity from DNA. You probably don’t want to know this information. But they do! And I fear what would happen if they do — especially what would happen to poor people and minorities, if this ever came to pass.” Pollack’s concerns about the possible abuses of DNA gathering are serious. But that does not stop him from championing DNA research. “At the same time,” Pollack continues, “it is true that genetic information unlocks new possibilities for treatment. The more we know of someone’s genetic history, the more we can tailor treatment for someone with cancer, AIDS, and a host of other diseases.” And this is where the lure of pharmacogenomics lies. Take a quick look at www.DNAprint.com — there you can purchase a simple test in which you send in a cotton swab of tissue from inside your cheek and for $219 find out what percentage European or Asian or Native American you are. On the same site, you can read about tests for ovarian cancer and heart disease. Chief executive officers of pharmaceutical companies might not want to see developments in pharmacogenomics in the short term. Their livelihood depends on many people taking their medications and treatments. DNA information will tell people that specific drugs will probably not work on them, and profits for drug companies will decline. But in the long term, those of us fortunate enough to have health coverage will probably all be flocking for DNA-based tests that tell us much more personal information about our fragility and mortality than we want to know and also point us to specific drugs tailored to our code. So why is this the Next Big Thing for Jews in New Jersey? I’ll posit three reasons. Click for more...