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Essay/Term paper: A massive project for the benefit of mankind: a look at the human genome project

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Science Research Papers

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A Massive Project for the Benefit of Mankind: A Look at the Human Genome Project


Scientists are taking medical technology to new heights as they race to
map all of the genes, nearly 100,000, in the 23 chromosomes of the human body.
Along the way, they hope to understand the basis of, and maybe even develop
methods of treating certain genetic diseases, such as Alzheimer"s and Muscular
Dystrophy. They plan to do this by identifying the DNA sequence of an abnormal
gene in which a disease originates and comparing it with the data of a normal or
healthy gene. The entire research project is entitled "The Human Genome
Project."
"The Human Genome Project" is a large scale project being conducted by
more than 200 laboratories, with even more researchers and labs having joined in.
Most of the labs and researchers are located in France and the United States.
The project started in 1990 and was slated to take 15 years and cost $3 billion
in U.S. money for the entire project coming to roughly $200 million per year.
Federal funding for the project is nearly 60% of the annual need. This has
created some funding problems for the project. There also have been
technological advances and discoveries that have helped to speed up the project.
This automation may help to reduce the cost and help the project to meet its
objectives ahead of schedule. The project was estimated to have detailed maps
of all of the chromosomes and know the location of most of the human Genes by
1996. Researchers have successfully located the gene and DNA sequence for
Huntington"s Disease on Chromosome 4 and have created a genetic test to
determine if a person carries this gene. "The child of a person with
Huntington's has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene, which inevitably leads to
the disease." Once an individual acquires the gene, it is only a matter of
time before they acquire the disease. Because the medical costs of treating
such persons in terminal illnesses are extremely high, insurance companies who
want to stay in business see this genetic test, and others like it, as an
opportunity to screen prospective clients for the probability of such diseases.
Some people feel that this information gives insurance companies unfair
advantage over those covered by medical insurance and point out that release of
genetic information to insurance companies puts a severe disadvantage on the
person who is screened, as well as violates the patients right to privacy. If
this genetic information is not safegua rded as confidential for the patient"s
and doctor"s knowledge alone, then the patient can be labeled as undesirable and
the patient may not be able to receive insurance coverage at any price. This
also brings up other ethical questions. "Does genetic testing constitute an
invasion of privacy, and would it stigmatize those found to have serious inborn
deficiencies? Would prenatal testing lead to more abortions? Should anyone be
tested before the age of consent?" Obviously, many genetic advancements are to
come of this research. One biotechnology that will benefit from genetic testing
is genetic engineering. It too, may have many social implications depending on
what is created from such experimentation. Gene Therapy is one "spin-off" that
has greatly benefited Gene-mapping. It utilizes genetic engineering to treat
genetic disorders by "introducing genes into existing cells to prevent or cure
diseases" . Most of the methods are still in the experimental stages and have
yet to be approved by the FDA. One example would be in a proposed treatment for
a brain tumor. Scientists would take a herpes gene and splice it in to a
nonvirulent virus. Viruses and liposomes have an uncanny ability to navigate
through cell membranes. The virus is then placed into a laboratory animal to
reproduce itself, and after reproduction, is injected into the human"s brain
tumor. The virus is supposed to invade the tumor cells. Thus, the herpes
enzyme will render the tumor vulnerable to drugs used to cure herpes, killing
the tumor, the virus, and the animals' cells used to manufacture the virus. With
this and other ideas springing out from the "medicine cabinet", many
researchers are optimistic about the results of their research. There is also a
direct correlation of the sequencing of genes and production of effective drugs
on diseases which may have different strands of defective genes, such as
Alzheimer"s. Locating these genes would be crucial to synthesizing a product to
affect that specific location in the gene. The director of the gene-therapy
program at the University of Southern California, Dr. W. French Anderson states,
"Twenty years from now, gene therapy will have revolutionized medicine.
Virtually every disease will have it as one of its treatments." Such an impact
on medicine would take much longer to occur with "hit and miss" tactics, rather
than methodically mapping out the blueprint for the body. So whether we, as
society, want to go forward in this research slowly, or with blazing speed,
scientists will go forward and do what they set out to do. The fact that this
research will benefit humanity is resounding, we just need to remember to handle
our findings in such a manner that benefits all of society, not just those on
top of the economical food chain. Also, persons should be able to decide for
themselves if they can handle knowing what their genetic flaws are. Sometimes
knowing you will eventually be afflicted by a disease can be as emotionally
devastating as actually having the disease. Some states have already enacted
laws guarding the rights of individuals genetically tested . The problem is
that most only cover certain procedures and not all of the testing. Whatever
way we govern such testing, we have to realize, will be inefficient by most
standards, as government always is, in complicated situations. I feel that if
genetic information should be public knowledge, then every country using this
genetic concept should provide "blanket insurance" coverage for everyone at the
same rate. This would be the only fair action that would have the common person"
s interest in mind, although it is a socialist concept, people would not be
discriminated against and it would put everyone on a level playing field. Since
I don"t see a comprehensive health care plan in our horizon, we should consider
making personal genetic information excluded from insurance companies, the
government, etc., except for the actual treatment of the patient, which was the
original reason that these tests were created. The reason that I feel genetic
information should be totally excluded from insurance companies is this: Once
genetic testing becomes widely available, it would be easy for an insurance
company to require people to submit to a genetic test before they could be
covered. If the person applying is found to be unfit, it could go on his or her
insurance "medical report", such as a "credit report", which would blacklist
that person from ever getting coverage. Obviously there is a need for
governmental laws to prevent this from happening. No one can control what genes
they will get, and just because you have "bad" genes doesn"t mean you are a
"bad" person, thus no one should be discriminated against due to these
"weaknesses". I personally feel that the Human Genome Project is a great
undertaking intended for the benefit of mankind. There are many advances that
have been made in treatments as well as the creation of various machines that
automate the process of gene mapping. Machines that may be used to aut omate
the study of other organisms. I just don"t trust the motives behind the
insurance companies who could unduly benefit from such testing. I feel that the
individual"s right to privacy should remain paramount, and that there should be
laws set in motion to prohibit a person from being discriminated against because
of genetic predisposition.

Bibliography

Bloch, Hanna; Dan Cray and Christine Sadlowski: "Keys to the Kingdom" and "Do
You Want to Know If the News Is Bad," Time Special Issue (vol. 148 No. 14, Fall
1996) pp. 24-29. The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia is licensed from Columbia
University Press. Copyright © 1995 by Columbia University Press. All rights
reserved. Duby, Jean-Jacques: "Genetic Discrimination," Science (vol. 270, Nov.
24, 1996) pg. 1282-3. Holmes, Bob: "Blueprint for Brewer"s Yeast," New
Scientist (vol. 150, Apr. 27, 1996) pg. 11. Hudson, Kathy L.: "Genetic
Discrimination and Health Insurance: an Urgent Need for Reform," Science (v.
270 Oct. 20, 1995) p 391-3. Hutton, Richard: "Bio-Revolution: DNA and the
Ethics of Manmade Life," New York: New American Library. Lewis, John:
"Automation System Quickens Gene Mapping," Design News (vol. 51, July 8, 1996)
Pennisi, Elizabeth: "New Gene Forges Link Between Fragile Site and Many
Cancers," Science (May 3, 1996) pg. 649.

 

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