These are the issues that the new UCLA Center for Society, the Individual and Genetics will grapple with at The Storefront Genome, a free public symposium scheduled for January 26.
"This symposium highlights the kinds of issues the Center will be exploring as it moves ahead," says Edward McCabe, the Center's Director. "Breakthroughs in genetic technology that allow individuals to understand essential information about themselves will affect us on a very personal level."
McCabe, whose responsibilities at UCLA include professor of pediatrics and physician-in-chief at the Mattel's Children's Hospital, is also involved with these issues on the national level. He was recently appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to chair the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health and Society.
The moderator of The Storefront Genome is Gregory Stock, Director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at the School of Public Health. "We chose this topic," says Stock, "because the intersection of science, commerce, and medicine is so critical. Within a decade, people will be able to read their genetic makeup for a few hundred dollars, and we're going to have to deal with the information, both as individuals and as a society."
The event is on Superbowl Sunday, so the program faces some tough opposition late in the afternoon. But Stock is unperturbed. "We'll do just fine," he says. "This is a unique chance to hear some of the world's most distinguished scientists and ethicists speak not about some PR scam like cloning, but about the real developments that will soon shape our lives."
"The impact of genetics is apparent in every academic field," explains McCabe. "With Chancellor Carnesale's support, we established this new UCLA Center to bring together diverse experts to explore the implications of genetics for society and the individual. This first symposium is a fine example of how we can provide an innovative forum for this."
The presentations are all targeted for a general audience, and the event is free. Speakers include Kari Stefansson, the founder of Iceland's DeCode Genetics, Nancy Wexler, who was central to the elucidation of Huntington's Disease, and Leroy Hood, whose sequencing technology made the Human Genome Project a success.
The Center for Society, the Individual and Genetics has ambitious plans for the future, including graduate and undergraduate courses and majors, developed by faculty from UCLA and other institutions and involving disciplines such as business, communications, engineering, fine arts, law, philosophy, public health, public policy, and social sciences.