A Dissenting Voice as the Genome Is Sifted to Fight Disease

From The New York Times:

Genome_2 The principal rationale for the $3 billion spent to decode the human genome was that it would enable the discovery of the variant genes that predispose people to common diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. A major expectation was that these variants had not been eliminated by natural selection because they harm people only later in life after their reproductive years are over, and hence that they would be common. This idea, called the common disease/common variant hypothesis, drove major developments in biology over the last five years. Washington financed the HapMap, a catalog of common genetic variation in the human population. Companies like Affymetrix and Illumina developed powerful gene chips for scanning the human genome. Medical statisticians designed the genomewide association study, a robust methodology for discovering true disease genes and sidestepping the many false positives that have plagued the field.

But David B. Goldstein of Duke University, a leading young population geneticist known partly for his research into the genetic roots of Jewish ancestry, says the effort to nail down the genetics of most common diseases is not working. “There is absolutely no question,” he said, “that for the whole hope of personalized medicine, the news has been just about as bleak as it could be.”

“It’s an astounding thing,” Dr. Goldstein said, “that we have cracked open the human genome and can look at the entire complement of common genetic variants, and what do we find? Almost nothing. That is absolutely beyond belief.”

More here.