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When Good Genes Go Bad

By Jeff Clark
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"You're a marked man," the doctor said as he reviewed the results of my EKG test.
 
This was my first visit to the doctor's office in more than four years. My wife insisted I go after my father suffered his fourth heart attack a couple months back.
 
I never thought I was at risk for heart disease... I eat well. I exercise regularly. My cholesterol is under 150, and my blood pressure is 110 over 80.
 
"None of that really matters," said the doctor. "At least, it doesn't matter as much as your genetics."
 
He went on to tell me about how a lot of heart disease, cancer, and other terminal illnesses are genetically predisposed.
 
"It's a shame you can't just take a pill for it," I replied.
 
"We're working on that," he said and handed me a recent American Medical Association article on the subject of genomics.
 
Genomics is the study of genes. Or rather, it's the study of the DNA within those genes.
 
Genes are DNA chains made up of hundreds or thousands of simple molecules. The DNA in each of the body's cells contains all the genetic information needed to produce a person. But in any given cell, only some of the genes are turned on. That's what makes a liver cell different from a skin cell – different sets of genes are turned on.
 
But genes can go wrong. A change in a single link in the thousands of DNA chains can produce disease. Sickle-cell anemia, for instance. Other diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's are caused by mutations in several genes.
 
Scientists are trying to find these faulty genes and figure out how to turn them off. Aiding the search is something called the "genetic map." It works a lot like your car's GPS system. A genetic map shows the location of genes and fragments that have been identified. Each of these can be used as a signpost, or marker, to help identify genes that might be related to disease.
 
For example, it's easier to find Sausalito if you know it's near San Francisco. And it's easier to find a gene if you start from a nearby marker. When scientists are tracking an inherited disease in a family, they look for markers present only in family members with the disease. When they find those markers, they know they are close to the genes.
 
Once we've identified the genes that cause the disease, we can then produce and prescribe drug therapies that target only those genes.
 
Imagine taking a pill to ward off heart disease, or eliminating breast cancer with a pill that's designed to turn off the gene that causes it.
 
The possibilities are amazing.
 
We're still very early in the ballgame, however. And profits for most companies involved in genomics are far, far off in the future. But there are a couple of companies in this field that are just a few quarters away from turning a profit.
 
I highlighted one of these companies a few months ago in the Big Trend Report, and I'm looking closely at possibly recommending another one.
 
Funding for genomics research is increasing exponentially. The first companies to turn a profit off of it will claim a leadership role in the industry. And investors in those companies will profit just as early investors in Amgen and Genentech grew rich from the biotech boom.
 
Just thinking of it makes my genes tingle.
 
Best regards and good trading,
 
Jeff Clark




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