Does proteomics need a “big government” approach?

Bill Snyder
Published: February, 2003

Laser beams are used to eject proteins from the thin slices of tumor for further study, as suggested by this photo-illustration of a mass spectrometry study. The goal is better understanding of how cancer develops and, ultimately, better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent the disease.
Photo by Anne Rayner
The field of proteomics is burgeoning, thanks in large part to a generous flow of research funding – both public and private. But some observers wonder whether faster progress could be achieved with a concerted government effort – a “big science” program like the Human Genome Project (see “The Future of Proteomics”).

A big-government approach is warranted, some argue, because of the current limits of technology and knowledge. For example, computer-enhanced techniques including high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry are allowing researchers to reach conclusions even with the tiniest amounts of protein (see “Mining for Proteins”). But there is still no protein equivalent of the polymerase chain reaction, developed in the early 1980s, which allows almost limitless mass-production of genetic material for study.

Another reason for attempting a “Man on the Moon” approach to proteomics is the urgency of medical problems that are waiting to be addressed.

“Our ability to improve on human biology I would argue is one of the most important possible goals of the 21st Century,” says Daniel Perry, executive director of the non-profit Alliance for Aging Research, which advocates for more research dollars on diseases that affect older people.

In the next 30 years, “a wave of chronic disease and disability,” including a quadrupling of the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease, will sweep over the country as the population ages, predicts Perry, a former member of the federal Task Force on Aging Research and former advisor to the White House Conference on Aging.

“If we can fine-tune the human biology at the level of genes and proteins and growth factors, and use those insights to extend healthy years of life and reduce to a bare minimum the years and months or weeks spent in a dependent state at the far end of life, that would be an enormous social accomplishment,” he says. “I think it’s a goal and a vision that could very well be served by national leadership in the public sector.”

Page 1 2 > All

View Related Article: BvYxigrkBdZnlJfx