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The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine    by Francis S. Collins order for
Language of Life
by Francis S. Collins
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health, and head of the Human Genome Project for fifteen years, announces in his Introduction to The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine a new paradigm in medicine. He tells us that an 'explosion of research' has set us 'in the midst of a genetic revolution that will touch all of us in numerous ways', which he addresses in subsequent chapters. In order to understand the details, many readers will find it helpful to take in the Genetics 101 tutorial (in an Appendix) before starting.

Collins tells us that genetic tests currently available 'sample less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the complete DNA molecule, but the information they yield bears on dozens of diseases and conditions', and these numbers are expanding rapidly. He offers his book as a 'guide to this new era of personalized medicine'. He also describes his own experience with genetic testing (a simple home test from three different providers costing a few hundred dollars) and explains what he was able to glean from it, in terms of advisable lifestyle changes as well as potential health problems to monitor more carefully. He predicts that, because 'everyone is born with dozens of genetic glitches', 'Your DNA sequence, properly encrypted, will soon become a permanent part of your electronic medical record, and will be utilized by health care professionals to make a wide variety of decisions about drug prescriptions, diagnostics, and disease prevention.'

Chapters address: The Future Has Already Happened (how the leading edge of the genome revolution is already affecting lives); When Genes Go Wrong, It Gets Personal (genetic screening prior to parenthood); Is It Time to Learn Your Own Secrets? (the pros and cons of finding the ticking time bombs in our genomes); Getting Personal with the Big C ('the role of DNA mutations in cancer'); What's Race Got to Do with It? (DNA analysis for personalized medicine, not racial profiling); Genes and Germs (future predictability of 'genetic susceptibility fo infectious disease'); Genes and the Brain (genetic factors in mental disorders); Genes and Aging (heredity's role); and The Right Drug and the Right Dose for the Right Person (effect of genetics on drug response). Finally A Vision for the Future predicts an inspiring case study and discusses what might derail it.

At the end of each chapter is a summary Conclusion and suggestions for What You Can Do Now to Join the Personalized Medicine Revolution (including a suggestion as simple as collecting a family history, and offering Internet references for further investigation). In his Introduction, the author advises that 'The accelerating ability to read the language of life is allowing a completely new view of health and disease.' I highly recommend The Language of Life to you as an important and accessible resource that guides readers through the exciting opportunities ahead in personalized medicine.

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