AP; For Less Than $5K, UNLV Researchers Will Decode DNA

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Academics at UNLV quickly scrapped the working title of a new institute — "Quantitative Health Sciences" — because it sounded too scientific. The public wouldn't get it.

For an institute university officials say will change the future of health care, they needed a name people could understand. They settled on the "Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine," which this month celebrated its debut.

Seeded with a $2.5 million grant from the Nevada Governor's Office of Economic Development and matching funds from UNLV, the institute will decode people's genomes to predict individual susceptibility to disease, study treatment options and fine-tune drug dosages to minimize adverse effects, Executive Director Martin Schiller said.

Personalized medicine is a concept that is gaining attention nationally, most recently in January when President Barack Obama announced he would ask Congress for $215 million to put toward such research.

The potential benefits extend beyond health care, as the emerging field is expected to create jobs. The institute hopes to work in tandem with a proposed UNLV medical school to train genetic counselors, clinical molecular geneticists and molecular genetic pathologists. The institute already hired several faculty and staff members. Formal approval from the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents is pending.

Schiller, who also is a professor at UNLV's School of Life Sciences, sat down the Las Vegas Sun to discuss the institute and its work. His responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: Explain the concept of personalized medicine.

Basically, every person is patterned from a blueprint. Their blueprint is the DNA. All of the DNA in a person is called the genome.

Each person has a different blueprint. They're all similar but distinct. This means we all respond differently to the environment, and we all have different ailments that come up at different points in our lives.

The general idea is this blueprint is really the ultimate diagnostic test. It's kind of like what we've done in society with data-driven marketing. We're doing data-driven medicine.

Q: How will this field change health care over the next 50 years?

I think there's going to be a lot of genome, data-driven medicine.

Regenerating tissue or organs will become common. I think biosensors and micro-implants in your body that provide real-time feedback will probably be a reality.

A new technology that our lab is also doing is genetic editing. There are particular mutations people have that make them extremely prone to disease. If you have a mutation that has the potential to be so bad, one of the ideas is, why not try to correct it in a preventive approach?

This is a little bit of a fantasy right now, but people have this working effectively in animal models. I think all of these things will come to bear in future medicine.

Q: What are the drawbacks of such technologies?

With anything new, there's new crime. Genomic information could be used for harm.

The main concern is discrimination. Why would an insurance company insure you if you're going to get Huntington's disease? There are laws that protect against that already, but when there are laws, people break them. There's going to be strong incentive for insurance companies to try to find a reason not to offer that person insurance. I think that's a potential problem.

Q: How much will it cost?

The institute expects to charge $1,500 to $5,000 to decode a person's genome. So are we destined to live in a society where every person will have his or her genome decoded? You will see that. Anyone who wants it done will. The costs will drop over time.

Q: How will such advances change life for health care consumers?

The general public will have to know a little more about genetics than they currently do to manage their own health.

Las Vegas often is criticized for not having or producing enough health care professionals. How will the institute change that?

We have the opportunity to build a medical school with this integrated into the curriculum, and that gives us a certain uniqueness for the future. Not only will we be doing research and providing this service, the potential is for Nevada to help educate the workforce.


Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com

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