“The Future of Genetics—How Far Is Too Far?”, Claire McDaniel and Daniel Marchalik’s Entry on The Doctor’s Book Club
In this entry on The Doctor’s Book Club, Dr. Daniel Marchalik and Claire McDaniel explore Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History, which traces the long history of genetics and our understanding of evolution, from the ancient Greek scientists to today’s high-tech university labs. The Doctor’s Book Club was a column in The BMJ where Dr. Marchalik and McDaniel (who, at the time of publication, was a third year medical student at Georgetown University School of Medicine, participating in the Literature and Medicine Track) discuss themes at the intersection of literature and medicine, reaching an international audience of medical leaders.
Their writing is grounded on the US Food and Drug Administration recent recommendation to approve a gene altering treatment for leukemia, which would be the first gene therapy available in the US. They draw examples from the book and reflect that, “while genetics held promise of providing ‘power on an enormous scale’, its implementation has not always been used to promote good”. “But the gene also holds the power to bring us closer together”, as the widespread use of in-home genetic testing kits has taught us that “we have more in common than we think”.
“We are now entering the next phase in the story of the gene”, where gene modification is getting approved, for example, to correct disease in human embryos. “But despite the promising results, the pioneers of the CRISPR editing technology are urging caution. When genes become tools, what will those tools be used for? As we try to answer that question, Mukherjee’s book asks us to carefully look back before we continue to move forward”, they conclude.