Last week I joined the meeting “Where is life science heading in the future? Genes, Technology & Society” organized by the Stockholm Science City Foundation and Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation. A topic of high relevance not least for Karolinska Institutet as a medical faculty.
Gene technology is providing new possibilities to understand and cure life threatening diseases and also new tools to meet environmental challenges. The first day focused on how gene technology can help to meet global sustainability challenges. The second day on how gene technology is helping us to understand and cure life threatening diseases. What are the possibilities and risks?
I started off the second day by a discussion on the topic “Gene technology in human medicine: the past, the present and the future.”.
Gene technology is applied in the production biopharmaceuticals, in personalized medicine and in gene therapy. Biopharmaceuticals is really a part of Swedish history that is coming to life again providing enormous possibilities. Great hope has been placed on personalized medicine ever since the decoding of the human genome. However, except for pharmacogenomics, it is not until in recent years that this field has delivered in parallel with the development of high throughput technologies, first in monogeneic diseases and now for example in cancer. Gene therapy is now bringing new treatment options to multiple fields of medicine. However, the journey from concept to clinical application has been long and challenging and is a very good example of the cycle involving experimental research and clinical research. In this case serious problems identified in initial clinical trials necessitated further basic research in multiple disciplines.
The applications of gene technology relies on interdisciplinary research, involving medicine, engineering sciences but not least humanities and social sciences. These technologies raise a number of ethical and legal issues that call on a broad range of expertise outside of medicine and engineering sciences. Ethics, and insight from the social sciences and the humanities are required to prepare the society for the introduction of novel technologies. It will be important to involve the patient and reaching out to the public.
Looking into the future, humble with the difficulties this entails, it will be important to share data, of course with all regulation. Furthermore, gene editing and artificial intelligence is expected to have great impact on this field.
Engelsbergs bruk – a UNESCO world heritage site