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Dr. J. Craig Venter's pioneering techniques and philosophies sparked a revolution in genomics. From sequencing and analyzing the first human genome in 2001, to recently publishing the first complete diploid human genome, Dr. Venter and his team are forging a new understanding of human biology. While this most recent publication, made broadly available for scientific use through the Public Library of Science, is providing important insight into Dr. Venter's genome, individualized health care will only become possible with the knowledge that will come from sequencing thousands of other human genomes. Coupling this genomic sequence data with information about specific traits and health status will truly usher in a new era in medicine.
The Venter Institute's approach will allow scientists and physicians everywhere to compare information from each individual whose genome is sequenced with that contained in an open access database projected to grow within ten years to more than 10,000 complete diploid genomes with associated personal trait information. Building on the understanding gained from that process, Venter Institute scientists and collaborating researchers and clinicians with other academic or charitable research institutes and medical centers will elucidate and apply the mechanisms that influence the onset and progression of disease. Unlike for-profit companies that charge participants to have limited sections of their genomes sequenced or scanned for the use and benefit of only those individuals, the Venter Institute approach facilitates global research and clinical studies designed to enhance scientific knowledge and eventually the health of all people through the large, open-access databases that will be created.
The promise of genomics is that it will enable a better understanding of humans at the DNA level which will, in turn, allow scientists to better understand, treat and eventually prevent many complex diseases such as cancer. Cancer proliferates due to genomic alterations. Some are inherited, but most are accumulated from the environment during lifetime. Each tumor has unique characteristics based on specific features of an individual's inherited genome, as well as how that genome has been altered by exposure to various elements in ways that support uncontrolled cellular growth. Genomics holds great promise for treating cancer more effectively than most approaches in the past, which have failed to achieve more than modest incremental advances. There have already been remarkable results demonstrated in trials of cancer vaccines for melanoma and some brain tumors as well as in new approaches for treating breast cancer using insights gleaned through genomic research. These are the kinds of breakthroughs that understanding human genomics will enable, and such important collaborations are a hallmark of the Venter Institute.