Fifty years from now, if I avoid crashing my motorcycle in the interim, I will be 106. If the advances that I envision from the genome revolution are achieved in that time span, millions of my comrades in the baby boom generation will have joined Generation C to become healthy centenarians enjoying active lives.
How do we get from here to there? For starters, we must develop technologies that can sequence an individual’s genome for $1000 or less. This will enable healthcare providers to identify the dozens of glitches that we each have in our DNA that predispose us to certain diseases. In addition, we need to unravel the complex interactions among genetic and environmental risk factors, and to determine what interventions can reduce those risks. With such information in hand, new treatments will be developed, and our “one-size-fits-all” approach to healthcare will give way to more powerful, individualised strategies for predicting and treating diseases – and, eventually, preventing them.
The challenge doesn’t stop there. We are already setting our sights on the ultimate nemesis of Generation C: ageing. Genomic research will prove key to discovering how to reprogram the mechanisms that control the balance between the cell growth that causes cancer and the cell death that leads to ageing. It is possible that a half-century from now, the most urgent question facing our society will not be “How long can humans live?” but “How long do we want to live?”
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Human Genome Research Institute
Genome Technology Branch
Head, Molecular Genetics Section