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Human Genome Project, Flat on its Face, Must Educate the Public

SAN DIEGO, June 4 - "The Human Genome Project has fallen flat on its face on disseminating information and helping people in the public understand this," fumed Klaus Lindpaintner, director of Roche Genetics, in his keynote address opening the bioinformatics session of the Beyond Genome conference here.

 

The project, he said, "spent a lot of money on bioethics, appropriately, but not on public education." This, Lindpaintner said, is as much a key challenge to researchers as linking genes to function.

 

The lack of public understanding will slow the introduction of breakthroughs on the scientific side and slow the drive to put data and patient protection mechanisms in place as genomic research moves from the lab to the clinic, Lindpaintner warned.

 

"All of this will rely on all of us engaging in a dialogue with the public," he said.

 

Lindpaintner's points were largely applauded.

"It was a good point. The mandate [to educate the public] was more shadowed, and [human-genome researchers] weren't given resources to do it," said Eric Fairfield, chair of the bioinformatics session, who referred to the availability of education funding but no checks that something was actually being accomplished. "There was strong political reasons to do it [sequence the genome] but much [weaker] reasons to accomplish something."

 

Michal Preminger, vice president of research at Compugen, said the problem is exacerbated by a dearth of intellectual cross-pollination at conferences like this, and will begin to sort themselves out when physicians, pharma, and FDA start participating.

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