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All disease is genetic
Introduction By
Barbara J. Culliton

In the Literature

It is fair to say that all disease is genetic in one way or another. So, for that matter, is health. During the 1960s and 1970s, when medical genetics emerged as a powerful new discipline, research physicians made great advances in the understanding of so-called Mendelian diseases—those relatively uncommon genetic diseases that are inherited directly from one's parents. Sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis fall into this category.

By the 1980s, molecular medicine entered the mainstream of research and with it appreciation of the role that genes play in virtually every disease to which humankind is susceptible. Certain cancers arise, for instance, when tumor suppressor genes are turned off, allowing cancers to grow. Sometimes the cause is internal—the cellular environment changes and a gene that was doing its normal job goes out of control. Sometimes the source of genetic change is external—an environmental stimulus of some sort. Interest in knowing how genes are regulated and in thinking about how to control their regulation is now one of the most important areas of medical research.

With the successful sequencing of the human genome, genetics and genomics are on everyone's mind. With anticipation of the so-called genomics revolution in mind, the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation sponsored a conference in 1998 on "The Implications of Genetics for Health Professional Education." Its goal: to assess the future of genetics as a central part of ordinary medicine and to think about what physicians and others in the medical professions will need to know.

The Genome News Network (GNN) is pleased to present its readers many of the papers that came from the Macy conference because they are as informative now as they were two or three years ago when they were written. As conference chair Leon Eisenberg, M.D., has said, "It has become evident that there is a genetic component to every disorder, often influenced by a number of genes interacting with one another to confer increased (or decreased) risk of maladaptation to particular environments. ... Doctors must learn how to convey genetic information to counter popular superstitions that interpret inheritance as fate rather than pre-disposition and do not recognize that genetic vulnerability can often be offset by environmental adaptations."

Below is a link for Dr. Eisenberg's summary of the conference, as well as a list of participants. GNN will publish additional papers during the coming weeks.

Download Dr. Eisenberg's summary (pdf)

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