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High Hopes

A 'moonshot' initiative like the precision medicine program President Obama is announcing won't make most people healthier, opines the Mayo Clinic's Michael Joyner in an op-ed in the New York Times.

While the Human Genome Project and its follow-on studies have uncovered hundreds of variants linked to common diseases, Joyner notes each have a small effect on disease risk. He argues that knowing a patient's age, sex and body weight, along few some simple blood tests, can better predict type 2 diabetes than a genetic risk score can. And either way, he notes that the prescription to exercise more and eat healthfully remains the same.

Similarly, he says precision medicine won't live up to the hope of providing people better therapeutic and preventive options based on their genetic risk. "Like most 'moonshot' medical research initiatives, precision medicine is likely to fall short of expectations," Joyner writes. "Medical problems and their underlying biology are not linear engineering exercises, and solving them is more than a matter of vision, money, and will."

Instead, he says such funds would be better spent trying to understand human behavior. "Ultimately, we almost certainly have more control over how much we exercise, eat, drink and smoke than we do over our genomes," Joyner says.