UCLA Spotlight

Dr. Wayne Grody: medical miracles and movie magic

  • By Erica Stanley
  • Published Jan 22, 2008 1:15 PM

Dr. Wayne Grody

UCLA’s Wayne Grody knows the difference between Hollywood hyperbole and real life medical mysteries—and where Hollywood and real life intersect. He is an M.D., UCLA professor and national advisor on issues related to genetic testing, as well as a consultant and writer for movies and television.

Dr. Grody began his career at UCLA over 25 years ago, first receiving residency and fellowship training before moving on to become a UCLA faculty member. He is now a professor in the departments of pathology & laboratory medicine, pediatrics, and human genetics at the School of Medicine, and director of the diagnostic molecular pathology laboratory within the UCLA Medical Center. He also directs the Orphan Disease Testing Center, which is one of only a few certified labs in the country to test for extremely rare genetic diseases.

During his years at UCLA, Dr. Grody has been at the forefront of developing nationwide quality assurance and ethical guidelines for DNA-based genetic testing. Notably, he was heavily involved in the nationwide effort to offer carrier screening for cystic fibrosis. While Dr. Grody is pleased that the availability of genetic testing has increased over the years, he is concerned that as the industry grows and becomes more commercialized it could eventually lead to the disappearance of academic labs.

“In 1987, UCLA was one of the first academically-based diagnostic labs in the country. Now, however, commercial labs have come to dominate the bulk of genetic testing through aggressive marketing and broad contracts.” Dr. Grody notes that while he is not criticizing the quality of genetic testing by commercial labs, the disappearance of academic labs could have two significant implications: “First, academic labs enable the treating providers to work more closely with the lab personnel to ensure more effective communication and consultation. Secondly, academic labs serve as an important training ground for our future lab directors, technologists, and clinicians.”

Dr. Grody has been a film critic for MD Magazine, sometime writer and technical advisor for a number of feature films, television movies and series, including Life Goes On, Chicago Hope, CSI, Medium, and both Nutty Professor movies. Most recently, Dr. Grody has been involved on the NBC series, Heroes, and is featured on its website explaining the storyline’s genetic underpinnings.

Dr. Grody understands why genetics has become so sensationalized. “With the mapping of the human genome and all of the media hype surrounding it, the entertainment industry can make the possibilities for curing human ailments seem limitless.” Since many people tend to learn much of their science from entertainment and media, Dr. Grody’s concern is that genetic testing—with all of its possibilities and risks—is portrayed accurately. For example, gene therapy has been hyped for almost 20 years now, but has shown relatively little success and endured several unsuccessful outcomes. While he notes the many possibilities that genetic testing may offer, he considers it his job, when asked to consult, to ensure that what’s conveyed is close to what is currently possible by genetic testing. “I see my consultant work on genetic testing advisory panels and entertainment projects as a way of ensuring that the work from the Human Genome Project serves society and that society is being properly informed about its realistic uses,” explains Dr. Grody.

On January 27, the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics will host a free public symposium, Babies by Design: Redesigning Humans? Dr. Grody will be featured on a panel to discuss embryo testing for various genetic diseases and the possibility of testing for other more controversial aspects such as a child’s sex or athletic ability. He hopes to continue to educate the public about what they can realistically expect from genetic testing now and in the not so distant future.