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The Genetic Journey: Following DNA from Cell to Society

The Genetic Journey: Following DNA from Cell to Society

The Genetic Journey: Following DNA from Cell to Society

Page 4

By Brian W. Simpson

And the Walls Come Tumbling Down
People with immune systems compromised by HIV, cancer therapy or an organ transplant have two potentially lethal enemies: 1) opportunistic fungal infections; and 2) the drugs used against them. One such drug, Amphotericin, is known as "Amphoterrible" because the dose needed to kill the fungal infection is just short of lethal for the patient. Molecular geneticist David Levin has uncovered a weakness in yeast that may result in new, less-terrible drugs. Like its pathogenic cousins Candida, Aspergillus and Cryptococcus, yeast must carefully maintain cell wall integrity as it grows. Levin has found proteins needed to build strong walls. Disrupt a few proteins, and the cellular walls will come tumbling down. A pharmaceutical company has licensed one of his discoveries and is evaluating drug compounds that could help save the thousands of people who die every year from fungal infections.

Trained to Explain
Genetic tests have awesome predictive power. They may reveal a predisposition to breast cancer or a lethal genetic abnormality in an unborn child. Between the science and the patient stand genetic counselors, trained to help people comprehend how a quirk of their DNA might increase their disease risk. They not only explain test results, but help patients beforehand. (Does a 20-something want to know that Huntington's disease will likely kill them in a few decades? Have parents considered what they will do if they learn their child is to be born with Down syndrome?) Genetic counselor Lori Erby and health communications expert Debra Roter are studying 177 genetic counselors to find their most effective techniques. (Is it better to lecture or to be interactive? What's the optimal use of body language or speed of speech?) They will feed those insights back into training programs at the Bloomberg School and elsewhere.

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