Understanding the role that genes play in disease is one of the fastest growing areas of science.
The Human Genome Project (HGP) has created the field of genomics – understanding, and using, genetic information. The knowledge, resources and technologies arising from the HGP enables us to understand how our genes contribute to human health and disease. Genetics is playing an increasingly important role in the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of diseases.
Developing new ways to treat disease
The ultimate goal is to use information on how genes cause or contribute to disease, to develop new ways to treat, cure, or even prevent the thousands of diseases that people suffer from. But getting from the point at which a gene is identified in having a role in a disease, to effective treatments is a long, and challenging, task.
Gene therapy has been, and continues to be, considered for diseases such as cystic fibrosis caused by a faulty gene.
Drug design has also been revolutionised, as researchers create new classes of medicines based on information on protein structure and function, rather than the ‘trial-and-error’ methods that were used in the past. Drugs targeted to specific sites in the body, and ‘personalised medicine’ - use of medicines suited to your genes - promise to have fewer side effects than many of today's medicines.
Who works in genetics?
So what type of person works in genetics in the pharmaceutical industry?
- Molecular biologists identify sections of DNA that code for proteins which may be targets for drug interaction; working out their DNA sequences
- Protein engineers create and modify sections of DNA/RNA to make proteins of choice such as receptors or enzymes
- People work in cell culture, creating and growing cells with modified DNA to use in test systems for drug/receptor interactions. If tests show that a new compound works on isolated cells in plastic containers, they will initiate work on more complex systems
- Genomics researchers investigate sub-populations of people, to identify specific sections of genes that may be implicated in disease, or that may lead to side effects
- Computational Biologists and Bioinformaticians use computational models to predict drug/receptor interactions; analyse and interpret DNA sequences
Last modified: 20 September 2023
Last reviewed: 20 September 2023