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Winding Your Way Through DNA Symposium

San Francisco, California
Saturday Morning, September 26, 1997

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD

Professor of Microbiology and of Biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco.


In this morning's session we address new ways to use DNA. We are going to talk about technological possibilities: those already realized, or close to being realized, as well as looking at some possibilities for the more distant future. We leave for this afternoon's session the complex and important issues of how society should use these technologies.

This morning we discuss what these technologies can do to improve our lives, and in outline, the session will go like this.

  • David Golde will discuss the question, "How can DNA technology be used to produce new therapies?"

  • Barry Bloom will discuss the question, "What effects will DNA technology have on health care both here and around the world?"

  • Jerry Fink will talk about, "How can DNA technology be used to increase our food supply?" and

  • Maxine Singer will discuss specific examples which illustrate how knowledge of our genes and their action has led to understanding certain human illnesses and could lead eventually to curing them.

    So, before we get down to the talks addressing these issues, I want to make just one point. It is really the only point I want to make in these brief introductory remarks but I really hope you'll take this home. As you listen to this morning's discussions, you should really keep in mind that these powerful technologies sprang directly from the kind of basic research you heard about last night. The approaches you'll hear about this morning didn't originate as applied research, although, as Stan Cohen pointed out last night, the potential for practical benefits emerged very early. Instead, the wellspring of much of this technology was, and it continues to be, basic research aimed at understanding the molecular mechanisms of life, and as you heard so eloquently last night, it was the beauty and the excitement of this basic research that drove many of the discoveries that are fundamental to DNA technologies.

    So, with our already powerful, although still very incomplete knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of heredity and gene action in hand, how can we manipulate this knowledge to provide positive contributions to society? For example, other ways of strengthening the body's defenses against diseases and cancer. Now perhaps recombinant DNA sounds like something very abstract and far removed from this questions. It is indeed a remarkable comment on the speed with which DNA technology has moved from basic to clinical phases that our first speaker, Dr. David Golde, a practicing physician, has already successfully treated patients with recombinant DNA therapies.

    Dr. Golde, as well as being a practicing physician, also heads the division of Hematologic Oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He is widely regarded as a pioneer in understanding how normal as well as cancerous blood cells develop, and he was the first to show that special molecules that communicate between the cells of our bodies could therapeutically regulate white blood cell number and function in humans. We are delighted to welcome David Golde to the Symposium today. He will talk about new weapons in the war against disease.

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