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Commentary

Some Gene Research Just Isn't Worth the Money
Keith Humphreys, Sally Satel, MD, The New York Times, 1-18-05

Two genetic researchers have published a controversial article arguing that federal funding for genetic research should focus on “disorders whose emergence and course cannot be derailed by changes in personal habits or manipulation of the environment. Examples are autism, Type 1 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Satel and Humphreys support their recommendation because using environmental approaches to treat some disorders – like addiction – has proven to be very effective. “In the past 20 years, California has reduced smoking to 16 percent of adults from 26 percent through higher cigarette taxes, closer monitoring of sales outlets, restrictions of smoking in public places, endorsement of antismoking attitudes in the general public and better decisions about health by current and prospective smokers.”

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has also found that “three-quarters of adults who once had been alcohol dependent but no longer have alcohol problems never received treatment.”

Setting effective priorities for government research is critical because the government lacks market incentives to target research funding where it can be most cost effective – for instance, literally helping people who cannot help themselves. Consequently, true genetic diseases should be our first priority, especially when other conditions like addiction are much more amenable to changes in public policy.



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