Saturday, September 25, 2010

From ridiculous genetics to the sublime

Yesterday, I was repairing someone's front door. While cutting a piece of wood, I realized for the nteenth time just how close we are to the cutting edge of genetic engineering that will ultimately rearrange our living world. This particular flash of insight lit up my neurons as I was listening to Paul Raeburn while he interviewed Dr. Leonard Fleck on NPR's Science Friday

Dr. Fleck was filling us in on personalized medical treatments, which will be a large part of standard health care practice in our future world. But there are some problems associated with this genetic-research-enabled strategy, don't ya know, and if its anything like the practice of medicine generally its as complex as a can of microbial worms.

He was talking about cost-effective treatments, and how genetic identifications can improve our chances of customizing specific treatments for specific patients based on their DNA. In that connection, he was explaining cost-effective numbers, which are evaluations of dollars spent to extend life and/or improve quality of life for sick people. In some ways, this new technology will narrow treatment choices for some patients while broadening them for others. It will solve some problems while presenting more difficult decisions for health professionals and families whose financial resources are, your guessed it, quite limited.

So here's Dr. Fleck talking on the radio, educating us about hard treatment decisions that will have to be made by governmental and insurance evaluators. Some politicians have called such committees, erroneously, "death panels."
These are teams of medical personnel who have to decide what is the best use of public money, or insurance funds. They'll be dealing with questions, all day long every day of the year, like: Should we turn loose this $80,000 so Joe Blow can live for another ten years, or should we send it to John Doe's account so he can can live another ten months? Thorny stuff like that. Not easy appropriations to disburse, but there is only so much much money to go around.

Nevertheless, scientific exploration of the human genome is, these days, unwinding a path of data that will enable medical professionals to make better informed decisions about these investments in ongoing life.

But yesterday, while I was installing a door, and listening to this discussion on the radio... from the ridiculous to the sublime--that's what I was experiencing, because, you see, before guest host Paul Raeburn interviewed Dr. Fleck about these life and death matters, which was in the second hour of the broadcast, he had been talking to Jon Cohen in the first half of the show about genetic research of a different stripe--mating humans with chimpanzees.

I'm serious as a monkey with a crescent wrench, y'all. The first hour of the program had featured a discussion about the genomic differences between humans and chimpanzees. Genetically speaking, the differences are quite insignificant, according to Jon Cohen. He did mention, though, that "there's something really different about us...(humans). Something much more profound than the 1% difference in genes, is what I say. Call me a neanderthal; I don't care.

Anyway, part of their discussion touched, bizarrely, on insemination experiments that were made in 1929 by a Russian biologist named Ilya Ivanovich Ivanaov, who tried to impregnate three female chimps with human sperm. (whose?)
I was relieved to hear that Ivanov's early venture into in vitro fertilization did not work; none of the humans sperms found their fertility-seeking bliss in the ape ova. Thank God it didn't work. Or at least, we haven't seen any evidence of such a creature being yet born into the world, except maybe the president of Persia. Just kidding.

Suffice it to say that if Ivanov's seminal experiments 81 years ago had worked, and a humanzee had been brought into the world, it would have been one small step backwards for man, one giant regressive leap (from one branch of human descent to another) for mankind...and most assuredly a dumbing down of our homo sapiens gene pool.
thank God we've come a long way in genetic research since those first days of darkly experimental laboratory shenanigans, or at least I hope we have. We shall see; the proof is in the (gene) pooling.

No comments:

Post a Comment