Genomic Medicine in the Next Decade

The field of genomic medicine is only about 10 years old, said Gerardo Jimenez-Sanchez, a leading researcher in the field.

Raju Kucherlapati, from Harvard Medical School’s department of genomics, adds, “The rate of accumulation of knowledge” is moving at an “ever increasing pace.”

It’s clear that 10 to 15 years from now, genomic medicine will have a significant influence on health care delivery, pharmaceutical development, and the everyday work of doctors.

“My prediction is that in the next coming decade, sequencing of the genome will be more and more common,” said Jimenez-Sanchez, who’s the founding director of the National Institute of Genomic Medicine in Mexico and director of the Genomic Medicine for Health Care Innovation program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Executive and Continuing Professional Education.

“The number of … applications that we’ll get to see in the clinical arena will be increasing gradually,” he said. “So, the use of the human genome for health care will be something that will be of common use in the coming years.”

10 to 15 years from now, genomics will have a significant influence on health care delivery.

Kucherlapati described what one of those common uses might be.

“It is possible within the next 15 years every parent will be offered the opportunity to have their child’s DNA sequenced,” he said, adding, “All children who are newborns will have a drop of blood taken from their heel.”

Drug research should also take a step forward. David Hunter, dean for academic affairs at Harvard Chan School and Vincent L. Gregory Professor in Cancer Prevention, said, “People have proposed that we could take a piece of someone’s tumor, implant it in a large number of mice so it grows, and try out different combinations of drugs in mice to see which give the best response back in the original tumor.” The best-performing drug could then be used to treat the tumor, improving the likelihood that the patient gets better.

He said, “We don’t pretend to be able to completely predict the future, but it is important for people in hospitals and medical practice and health systems to make informed judgments about what technology and training they’re going to invest in.”

In that sense, the next decade could be defined not so much by the invention of new technologies, but by making existing technologies more cost effective.

Jimenez-Sanchez said one of the next decade’s challenges is to develop “quick, reliable technology to read DNA at a clinical level but [that] also can be a cost benefit to the medical system.”

Overall, he said, “It’s a good time to take a look at what’s going on, what progress there is, and what the challenges are to come.”

Hunter said, “There are a lot of changes coming, and it’s hard to predict what they all will be, but … on a five-years basis, for some people with some diseases, things will look different.”

Drs. Jimenez-Sanchez, Hunter, and Kucherlapati teach in Genomic Medicine for Health Care Innovation: Applications and Implications at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.