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Medicine through a Genetic Lens
Introduction by
Barbara J. Culliton

In the Literature

From time to time, discoveries in biomedical research lead to new ways of thinking about medicine, and the education of physicians, young and old, is renewed. At least it should be. What we have learned about genetics during the past 20 or more years demands a new way of thinking about medicine, namely this: All disease is genetic. The more we learn about genetics, the clearer it becomes that even very complex medical problems like heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders result not from the action of a single gene but from the stunningly intricate interaction of many genes and many factors in the environment.

Barton Childs, M.D., a pioneer physician-scientist in the study of genes and disease, is among an outspoken corps of doctors who think the time has come to reshape medical education, and continuing medical education for that matter. In Childs' well-informed opinion, the oft-asked question "Why me?" that comes from afflicted patients, needs to be supplemented by two other questions—asked by their physicians. "Why this patient?" and "Why now—why is this individual sick at this particular time?" These questions bear on the role of genes and gene-interactions in health and disease.

Genetics is already forcing changes in our thinking, Childs argues, and the fruits of human genome sequencing will have a further profound effect. In his essay, "Medicine through a Genetic Lens," he argues that it is time for physicians and educators to return to an earlier age in which every patient was regarded as an individual. The unique biology of every patient has never been clearer.

Below is the link for "Medicine through a Genetic Lens." The essay appeared in The Implications of Genetics for Health Professional Education, a collection of papers delivered at a 1998 conference sponsored by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation.

--Barbara J. Culliton

Download Dr. Childs' essay (pdf)

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