Future of Medicine

A renowned medical geneticist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston says we're on the cusp of a new era in medicine that includes vastly improved genome science and therapies that identify risks before the presence of disease. Here's more from Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams.

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Dr. C. Thomas Caskey is the director and chief executive officer of the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases at UT Houston. He says in his mind, the future is clear.

"In my opinion, the largest driver of medical change is genome science."

Caskey says diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes and breast cancer have become easier to diagnose and treat because of advancements in gene specific therapies.

"We had very poor understanding of the mechanism of these diseases until we linked a gene to the causation factor for that disease, and then it became logical. It became scientific."

New advancements in what Caskey calls disease risk diagnoses are another key to prevention. He says new medical strategies that include genetic testing, imaging and the super specific study of individual molecules allow doctors to give patients a heads-up when it comes to future risks.

"We can identify now by molecular testing an apparently normal and healthy individual before the heart attack, before congestive failure, before the stroke, before the aortic rupture and by the diagnostic test thus treat for the prevention of the catastrophic event that we normally see in the health care problem toward the end of life."  

Caskey says researchers are also doing a much better job of genome sequencing, using a much broader approach, as he says, turning the stadium lights on instead of using a single spotlight, to search for individual disease-causing genes.

"This would alter the current strategy of looking under the spotlight, for example, for the genes related to diabetes 2. We know there are at least 20. If you look under a single spotlight you're likely to miss. The same would hold true for the diseases of coronary artery disease. We know there are many genes that can contribute to the risk for vascular disease."   

Dr. Caskey was appointed to his current position last year. He says UT-Houston is well-positioned to react to the new era in medicine.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...