Congratulations to everyone involved in producing this volume of Teknos, especially the student researchers who have contributed an impressive array of papers describing their discoveries in science, mathematics, and technology. Hopefully, this represents just the first of many contributions that each of you will make in your pursuit of scientific understanding and technological advances.
Our world urgently needs discovery-oriented minds like yours if we are to realize the potential of science and technology to benefit all of humankind. Equally important, we need such minds to work together. As leader of the Human Genome Project, I can attest that it would have been impossible to achieve our goal of sequencing all 3 billion base pairs of human DNA without the concerted efforts of an international research consortium comprised of thousands of scientists. Such collaborative teamwork and synergistic partnerships are even more crucial as science moves forward and builds upon the foundation laid by the human genome sequence. Our ability to solve some of nature's biggest mysteries will hinge upon assembling complex research teams that meld biological know-how with expertise in computer science, physics, math, clinical research, bioethics, and many other disciplines.
Data and tools produced through large-scale collaborations will serve to accelerate the pace of discovery at nearly every level of research. For example, the public initiative to sequence the human genome, with its emphasis on free and unrestricted access to data, is enabling individual scientists and small groups around the world to test their hypotheses with unprecedented speed and efficiency. Data from the Human Genome Project has streamlined the identification of genes involved in many inherited disorders. More recently, we have begun using data on human genetic variation to close in on genes involved in susceptibility to more common disorders, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, lower back problems, and blindness.
Fueled by advances in biotechnology and computer software, this newfound knowledge of the human genome is swiftly making its way into our daily lives in the form of "personalized medicine." By 2010, predictive genetic tests will be available for as many as a dozen common conditions, enabling individuals to take preventative steps to reduce their risks of developing such disorders. Physicians will also begin tailoring prescribing practices to each patient's unique genetic profile, choosing medications that are most likely to produce a positive response in that person. By 2020, the impact of genetics and genomics is likely to be far more sweeping than any of us can envision today. Among the developments we can expect are the introduction of new gene-based designer drugs for diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, and many other conditions that take such a high toll on our society. Gene therapy will also likely re-emerge to play a significant role in the treatment of some diseases.
However, along with the amazing power of discovery some a very serious responsibility—the responsibility of all scientists to weight the ethical, legal, and social implications of their research before embarking upon a project or advocating a new technology. In the case of genomic research, we need to ask ourselves: Will access to genomic technologies be equitable? Will legislative protections against genetic discrimination be in place? Will knowledge of human genetic variation reduce prejudice or increase it? Will we succumb to genetic determinism, neglecting the role of the environment and undervaluing the power of the human spirit and our need for God? And the list goes on.
Clearly, we do not yet have the answers to many of these daunting questions. It likely will take years of thoughtful research and vigorous debate among scientists, ethicists, legal scholars, and ordinary citizens to chart the wisest course. And that is where you come in. Whether your journey of discovery takes you to a high-tech laboratory, an inner-city clinic, or some other equally challenging setting, the future depends on you.
We live in a world in which all people soon will have to make informed decisions about genomic science and technologies. Thanks to your education and research experiences, such as those detailed in this volume of Teknos, you are well positioned to make such decisions because you have acquired the ability to ask questions and analyze issues. Now, I urge each of you to put that ability into action to benefit not only yourself, but your family, your community, and society as a whole.
Best wished as you continue to explore the exciting world of science, math, and technology. The future is in your hands.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
National Human Genome Research Institute
National Institutes of Health