This month more people will be wearing pink in some form or other than usual, and they'll participate in walks to raise funds with the goal of eradicating breast cancer. Quite likely, anyone reading this knows someone who has had to deal with this disease or is currently in the process of fighting it.
I have a number of friends -- health-conscious friends -- who were caught unaware and given the stunning prognosis. However, as Greg Lucier, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Life Technologies, said in a TEDMED talk he did a few years ago, "Biology holds the answers to the big challenges of the 21st Century."
A new view of cancer
Cancer, any kind of cancer, is one of those big challenges. Mr. Lucier went on to say that cancer is a disease of DNA. I'd never considered it that way; there has always been that lingering question of how did someone get "it"? (There was a time when people couldn't even say the word "cancer" without fearing it was a certain death sentence.)
Imagine if, years ago, we had been able to predict what diseases were silently lurking in our system, thanks to a DNA test. How many loved ones would have had the opportunity to live a longer and better, full-quality life?
By now, most everyone has heard about Angelina Jolie's decision to undergo an elective double mastectomy. She didn't want to take any chances, because her mother had died at a young age of this destructive disease. If we had not recently entered the genomic age, Jolie would have had to just hope that somehow she'd be spared the same diagnosis while feeling like she contained a ticking time bomb that could detonate at any moment, leaving her helpless and at its mercy. But thankfully, times have changed.
Big changes on the horizon
While our government is battling over Obamacare and the discussion focuses mainly on health insurance coverage, Mr. Lucier warns that the medical profession has to keep up with molecular medicine. He also says that life sciences are the power behind a new economy. Imagine the millions of dollars we could save in health care costs by using the latest technologies for preventive medicine. We are certainly living in fascinating times. The exhibition Genome: Unlocking Life's Code, at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is one way to learn about the era and conditions we are in now.
How cracking the genetic code could reach everywhere
It's amazing to think that 2013 is already the 10th anniversary of the year researchers produced the first complete human genome sequence. What has me excited is that I cannot help but think we have only just scratched the surface.
And it doesn't just involve potential solutions for cancer. Mr. Lucier explains that sequencing is being used in many different ways, from designing safer food to criminal forensics and public health monitoring. He's very passionate about how sequencing will ultimately play a role in our ability to transform cancer into a more manageable and treatable disease.
So while we are wearing our pink ribbons and walking for those who have suffered from this disease, it's thrilling to think that there is hope on the horizon, thanks to unlocking DNA.