New York Times News Service
August 1, 2000
[The web site for this is http://www.dna.com/]
Wanted: Your genes.
A California startup called DNA Sciences is introducing a Web site this week that will recruit people to donate their DNA to help find genes that cause disease. The company, which has James Watson, a discoverer of the DNA double helix, as a director and James Clark, Netscape's founder, as an investor, hopes to get 50,000 to 100,000 people to contribute to its "Gene Trust" by appealing to their altruism.
"The knowledge we gain from the Gene Trust has the potential to change medicine forever," the site, DNA.com, intones. "But we can't do it without your help."
The new effort reflects a big change taking place in genetics. Studies to link genes to disease are starting to be done on an unprecedented scale, involving far more people than ever before.
With the recent unraveling of the human genome, scientists are cataloging hundreds of thousands of differences in the genetic makeup of different individuals.
Figuring out which genes contribute to disease could help in developing drugs. In the future people might have their genes tested to know if they are susceptible to certain diseases.
Moreover, instead of the current practice of one-drug-fits-all, patients might have their genes tested to see which drug would work best for them, a field known as pharmacogenetics.
But to get to that point, scientists must first determine which of hundreds of thousands of genetic variations contribute to which disease or to the effectiveness of a particular drug. And that will require "disease association studies"-- surveying many people to find statistical correlations.
In the past, scientists usually found disease-causing genes by studying a few families or some isolated village with a high prevalence of a disease. Such genes have often been for rare inherited diseases, in which a defect in a single gene is at fault.
Glaxo Wellcome says it has already found genes associated with migraines, psoriasis, diabetes and Parkinson's disease. Genset, a French company specializing in studies on diverse populations, claims to have found genes linked to prostate cancer and schizophrenia.
DNA Sciences, based in Mountain View, Calif., is just one of the companies
springing up to try to gather patients and do studies.