No doubt genomics and the mapping of the human genome is one of the great triumphs of modern science, supplying remarkable insight into the function and design of the human body and paving the way for personal genetic testing. But can reading cells supply enough insight into human disease -- specifically cancer?
"What we are doing isn't working right now," said Hillis. "I'm going to say some pretty radical things about how we should think about cancer differently."
The problem with genomics, he explained, is that it's not really a blueprint of the body, but a list of "ingredients," and while those ingredients supply a look into the genetic makeup of a person's predispositions, their ability to help locate the cause of sickness is limited. Hillis explained:
Mostly what you need to know to find out if you're sick is not your predispositions but it's actually what's going on in your body right now ... you need to look at the things that the genes are producing, and what's happening after the genetics. And that's what proteomics is all about.
Proteins are the machines operating the body, and their actions make up the conversation that the body is constantly having, he continued. They are telling cells to grow, and to die. And cancer results when something has gone wrong in the conversation -- when communication breaks down.
Watch Hillis explain how he and his team are using proteomics to discover new pathways in cancer treatment, and why he believes cancer must be thought of as a "verb" instead of a "noun."