Congressional Briefing Commemorates Tenth Anniversary of the Sequencing of the Human Genome
Created by on 07/11/2013

By Jennifer Zeitzer

More than 100 congressional staff and representatives from the research community filled a crowded room on Capitol Hill on June 20 for a special briefing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the completion of sequencing the human genome. Sponsored by Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Senate Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), the event featured engaging presentations about the effort, which was led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to produce the first comprehensive human genome sequence and open pathways to new innovations in health and technology.

At the briefing, NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute Eric Green, MD, PhD, reflected on the impact of genomics on research, medicine, and society, and shared examples of advances in genomic medicine that have led to new biological insights and improved human health. Dr. Collins expressed deep concern about the impact of the sequestration cuts on NIH, noting that other countries are increasing their investment in biomedical research. “We at NIH will do everything we can to figure out ways to continue moving the ship forward, but there is no real magic here. We were on the leading edge of medical research, and we cannot be confident that it is going to be there because we want it to,” stated Dr. Collins. In his presentation, Dr. Green explained how genomic information has been used to diagnose and treat cancer and other conditions. He also noted that advances in technology have significantly reduced the cost of human genome sequencing.

Drs. Collins and Green responded to nearly a dozen inquiries from attendees during a lively question and answer session following their presentations. Questions focused on how NIH is using genetic information to improve research on the diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases, whether advances in personalized medicine can reduce the cost of drug treatments, and what NIH is doing to use the agency’s existing resources more efficiently in the midst of the current budget challenges. The impact of the sequestration cuts on younger researchers was also discussed in response to a question from an attendee who mentioned that he was planning to begin a PhD program in the fall. Noting that NIH has lost almost 25 percent of its purchasing power over the last ten years, and that the chances of receiving a grant are at historically low rates, Dr. Collins said, “I worry deeply about what may happen if we don’t succeed in giving those individuals the confidence that they have a career path.”

FASEB and the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research also helped coordinate the briefing. Materials from the event will be posted on the Ad Hoc Group’s website in a few weeks.