Richard G. Petty, MD

Mapping the Genes of Disease

Many of us have been wondering if the so-called genetic revolution is ever going to bear fruit? When are we going to see some practical benefit from billions of dollars and the years of research by thousands of scientists?

On December 13th 2005, Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health’s Genetics Program, announced a bold $100 million pilot project to try to begin to unravel the genetic makeup of some common cancers. The plan is to try and speed the understanding of the diseases, so that new treatments may be developed.

We have already discovered numerous genes that can play a role in initiating cancer: in causing a cell to become malignant, to keep it growing and then to spread. Some tumors run in families, but many do not. And even in families with strong histories of cancer, it is by no means inevitable that an individual will develop the disease. As I have said many times, "biology is not destiny."

This new program is to be applauded: understanding the genetic component of cancer is an essential step toward better treatment, but it is equally important to recognize that an understanding of the biochemistry of the disease is but one aspect of understanding it. We also need to consider environmental and psychological factors, which all come into play. I have known some of the more militant geneticists who insist that the whole of human health and wellness will be comprehensible in terms of genes: why some people smoke all their lives and do not get lung cancer, while some non-smokers die of the disease in the forties. Or why some people have high-risk cancer genes, but that these are balanced by genes that endow them with a robust psyche that prevents them from succumbing to the disease.

I have had endless discussions with some, and although I respect their position, I think that they have only half of the answer. One of the big breakthroughs in recent years has been the understanding that genes in the brain do not so much determine your personality, but instead they give you a predisposition to how you react to changes in your environment. Genes are a lot less fixed than we used to be taught.

So this initiative is great, but don’t think that it is going to come up with all the answers.

For this we also need to be aware of the psychological, social, subtle and spiritual aspects of illness. For it is by considering all of these and understanding that illness has meaning and purpose for us, that we can achieve health and healing.

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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