Human Genome Project leader gives
talk at U.Va.
are on the brink of a revolution in the practice of medicine,
nus Dr. Francis Collins, the physician-geneticist who heads the
international Human Genome Project. We are shining light
into the darkness and unraveling the mysteries of the diseases
that fill our hospitals and clinics. We now are about to begin
the difficult work of turning our knowledge of the human genome
spoke Nov. 1 to a full house of students and faculty at the Newcomb
Hall Theater. A 1970 graduate of the University and director of
the National Institutes of Healths National Human Genome
Research Institute, Collins oversees the three-year, publicly
funded research effort to map and sequence all of the human DNA
genetic code, a project that has been called the most important
scientific undertaking of our era. Its aim is to help understand
the basis of genetic diseases and gain insight into human evolution.
I started with this project, many people had never heard of it,
he said. Now, when Im on a plane and mention it, about
two-thirds of the people I meet know of the Human Genome Project.
for completion in 2003, ahead of its original schedule, the international
scientific effort has already produced a draft human genome, or
map to the human organisms genes and DNA, that promises
to have profound implications for medical and drug research.
said there is growing evidence that a persons particular
response to a therapy may be genetically encoded, meaning that
some drugs for certain diseases may work better for some people
than others. If we can know the genotype of a disease, we
can pick a drug that is most effective for disease treatment in
a particular person, he said. We will be able to design
drugs that can go to the heart of the problem for precise and
highly effective treatment.
said there currently are about 100 drugs in clinical trials that
are based on a molecular understanding of disease rather than
simply on treating symptoms. He said knowledge gained from the
Human Genome Project will help scientists identify genes that
contribute to disease risk, allowing doctors to predict risk before
a patient actually develops the disease. He estimates that genetics-based
health care will be the norm within about 30 years.
to this point we have had a pretty profound ignorance of disease,
he said. We have mostly been describing disease and treating
symptoms. By creating this draft map of the genome, we are moving
to the part where we are turning facts into wisdom. Collins
described the map of the human genome as the book of life,
in draft form, and predicted that understanding it will lead to
methods of anticipating disease, and to highly precise therapies
for directly treating or blocking the onset of disease at the
on a small farm near Staunton and home-schooled until the sixth
grade, Collins entered U.Va. at 16 and received his undergraduate
degree in chemistry.
earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at Yale and then, sensing a revolution
was under way in molecular biology and genetics, enrolled in medical
school at the University of North Carolina.
in medical genetics and identification of disease genes, Collins
joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1984. His
ideas and approaches led to the development of new scientific
tools for identifying genetic abnormalities.
1989 his strategies led to identifying the gene for cystic fibrosis
and to further successful collaborations in identifying other
disease genes. In 1993, he became the second director of the National
Center for Human Genome Research, following James Watson, co-discoverer
of the structure of DNA.
was here at U.Va. where I was first given the glorious opportunity
to investigate the unknown, Collins said. My formative
education occurred at U.Va., and I was able to take advantage
of the supportive education offered here.
gave special thanks to U.Va. chemistry professor Carl Trindle,
who had introduced Collins to the audience. Carl Trindle
was my mentor and the one who got me excited about science,
Collins said. Trindle was Collins fourth-year chemistry
accomplishments have garnered numerous honors, including his election
to the Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences.
Earlier this year he was named a Virginia Outstanding Scientist
of the Year by the Science Museum of Virginia.
visited classes and spent time with students and faculty during
his visit at U.Va. The program was presented by Brown
College, the Forum
for Contemporary Thought, the Medical
Center Hour, the Institute
for Practical Ethics, and the departments of biology