Celebrating a "champion of change" in our community
Here's my op-ed about David Haussler that the Santa Cruz Sentinel published yesterday. It's good to remember that we have "champions of change" right here in our community, and I'm happy to help promote this good news. Read the campus news story here.
White House Honors Genomics Team
As the cost of sequencing human genomes plummets, we as a society must come to terms with issues of privacy and access. Genomic data have the potential to transform the way doctors practice medicine, but researchers must collaborate if we're to realize the full benefits that copious amounts of new data could provide.
That's why it was gratifying this week that UC Santa Cruz bioinformatics professor David Haussler was recognized as a leader of a team honored as a "Champion of Change" by the White House.
Haussler is the computer genius who led the team that assembled the first draft human genome sequence in 2000—and immediately posted the sequence on the web, where it would be free and accessible to researchers around the globe. Today, the UCSC Genome Browser is the most popular tool in the world for accessing human genomic data.
The Champions of Change program recognizes innovation that makes a positive change in the world. The White House recognized a newly formed global alliance that is dedicated to protecting—and facilitating—the secure sharing of genomic data among researchers and clinical practitioners. The award was presented by President Obama's senior science advisor John Holdren and by Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.
No one deserves this honor more than Haussler and the other seven members of the alliance's organizing committee. Haussler is a true visionary. In addition to the UCSC Genome Browser, his team recently built the largest shared cancer genome database in the world—the Cancer Genomics Hub (CGHub)—for the National Cancer Institute.
As costs drop, biomedical researchers need infrastructure and technology platforms that allow them to access the gold mine of genomic data being produced around the world. Consider this: The CGHub was designed to initially hold 5 petabytes of data—equivalent to 100 million four-drawer file cabinets full of text.
Imagine the challenge of building that system. That's the job of Haussler and his UCSC team of computer geeks. And it's urgent work, because doctors are close to being able to use those platforms to diagnose patients and tailor treatments to individuals.
Just last month, researchers announced major advances in the quest to decode the genetics of two forms of cancer, acute myeloid leukemia and uterine cancer. That work will help doctors classify tumors based on genetic similarities rather than by the affected organs. This represents a major triumph for patients and their doctors.
In addition, patients and doctors will benefit from the U.S. Supreme Court's recent unanimous ruling that human genes cannot be patented. We must ensure the smooth, safe flow of information among stakeholders, even as we guard the privacy rights of patients and research participants.
UCSC sociologist Jenny Reardon, who is working on her second book about the ethics of genomics, cautions that we will soon confront even more complicated issues regarding the ownership and control of genomic data. After all, who do you want to have access to your genome? Your loved ones? Your doctor? Your employer? Your insurance company?
Brave new world? Indeed. But we are up to this task. And we are fortunate to have champions of change right here in Santa Cruz.
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