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It's Complicated: Oct 3, 2013

At Slate, Brian Palmer notes that it has been more than a decade since the map of the human genome was published to much fanfare and promises of soon understanding the molecular basis of human disease. But Palmer adds that the more researchers peered into the genome, the more complicated it appeared.

"The genome provided a full parts list for the first time in biology, which was a huge contribution to biology and also drug discovery, but it didn't describe how things fit together or worked together, and that was a big problem," University of California, San Francisco, pharmacologist Brian Shoichet tells him.

That lack of understanding hindered many first attempts to develop drugs based on the new genomic information, Palmer adds. Still, he says that having the human genome sequenced has helped the development some drugs, particularly ones to treat cancer. These new drugs are often targeted at specific receptors and are for select patients, and seem to herald an era of personalized medicine.

"Keep in mind, though, that personalized medicine was high on the agenda back in those heady millennial days when the genome was sequenced," Palmer cautions. "It should serve as another reminder that the imaginations of doctors and pharmacologists sometimes run ahead of the science."