Friday, September 19, 2008

Google Genes

"Analysts said they did not believe that the news about Mr. Brin would have a negative impact on Google’s shares", from the New York Time this morning after the co-founder of Google revealed he has a gene that may predispose him to Parkinson's Disease. This in itself, is not particularly alarming, since most people who have the gene do not develop the disease, as far as we know. Phenotypic expression of most genes require other factors such as other genes, or environmental triggers to ever see the light of day. What is rather alarming, in my opinion, is that last sentence in the NYT piece about even a hint of effect of this revelation on the company's shares. Why should it affect shares of the company? He is very young, and even if he is to get the disease eventually, it won't be for 20 years or more. The larger question is this- if the CEO or any other highly influentional person in a business decides to get his genes profiled for disease risk, should it be public knowledge? And if it does become public knowledge, how should the public think about it in terms of their investments? It's one thing to consider company value when the CEO is actually sick, as has been the case with the media and Steve Jobs of Apple, but to even speculate that the stock would respond to the news of a company's co-founder having a gene that may or may not result in a disease in 20-30 years time, is a bit over the top in my opinion. I say, leave genes out of it, at least until we know more about the real risks that they confer. If we have to consider the genetypes of CEOs with all that's going on in the Market at the moment, then our heads will all implode and we may well all end up being swallowed by the resulting black hole.

Friday, September 5, 2008

So cancer in complex
This was posted in Nature today and there was also a piece in the Wall Street Journal on the topic, . I am curious why this is a surprise to anyone. That it is tells me that our penchant for scientific reductionism is more extreme than I imagined. We know very few diseases are caused by single gene aberrations so why should cancer be any different? Biology is always complex and full of errors, compensations and balancing acts. The big question for me with cancer is whether a given cell is destined to avoid the normal check and balances that keep its growth in check, or whether the environment can 'turn' a cell no matter how well protected it is with compensatory mechanisms. We know that both scenarios exist for cancer, but which one happens when is the question to address. It's a bit like the nature-nurture argument that continues to rage in psychology and sociology circles. Is there a predisposition to going crazy or, under the right circumstances, could it happen to anyone?