Special Feature: Human Genetics and Health Careers

Earlier this month, a team of researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, Maryland, announced on Science Express that they had found nearly 200 genes altered in breast and colorectal cancers. The findings are exciting because previously only a few genes had been painstakingly found to be associated with cancer. Having genetic information is not an end in itself, the researchers admitted in a press statement, but they believe that their new findings are the foundation of a better understanding of disease mechanisms and, in the long term, more refined diagnostic and treatment strategies than are currently available. Already, a few examples exist--blood tests for hereditary colon cancer; the design of Herceptin, a breast cancer drug; and Gleevec, a drug used in chronic myelogenous leukemia--in which the identification of gene alterations translated into clinical applications.

The Johns Hopkins research is just an example of systematic, genome-wide approaches, facilitated by the sequencing of the human genome and the technologies that arose from the Human Genome Project, that are likely to improve health care in the future. Access to these new tools allows academic researchers to tackle common diseases, dissecting the complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors that govern disease development. Pharmaceutical industries and biotech companies are also getting on board.

More links

See Science's special issue this week on the evolution of genomics.

Plus, tune in to the Science podcast to hear one of our interviewees--Eleftheria Zeggini, a statistical scientist at the University of Oxford--tell her career story.

Pharmacogenomics--the study of how genes affect responses to drugs--is becoming more important in drug-development research and clinical trials, with a view toward decreasing side effects and increasing the efficiency and efficacy of drugs in patients with the right genetic profiles.

As new research avenues are opened by advances in genetics, career opportunities for young scientists are expanded. The new generation of geneticists will need to juggle basic science, genetics, statistics, clinical research, and sometimes even more disciplines. M.D./Ph.D. dual degrees--perhaps with a couple of postdocs--will be desired for those who want to enter industry. Training in mathematics and computer science can also be helpful. But young scientists who are undaunted by the multidisciplinary nature of the field and training have very bright career prospects. Next Wave tracks down these career opportunities and finds out what it is like to work in this field, in academia and industry.

Global: The Future of Genetics--Career Opportunities for Young Scientists
Southern-European Editor Elisabeth Pain peeks into the new career avenues the sequencing of the human genome has opened, in academia and industry, and finds out what skills are needed to work in this field.

U.S.: Your Genetic Future
Personalized medicine is the future, writes contributor Jim Kling, but for today's newly minted geneticists, it presents both uncertainty and opportunity.

Europe: Follow That Gene--The Story of Three Young Scientists
Science intern Laura Blackburn talks to three young research scientists in human genetics about their paths into the field and their experiences on the job.

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