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Is modern genetics a blind alley? Yes

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 30 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1156
  1. James Le Fanu, general practitioner
  1. 1Mawbey Brough Health Centre, London SW8 2UD
  1. james.lefanu{at}

    Genetic research has yet to make the promised impact on medical practice. James Le Fanu thinks that it never will, but D J Weatherall (doi:10.1136/bmj.c1088) believes it already has and will continue to do so

    In the 17th century William Harvey’s medical contemporaries dismissed his discovery of the circulation of the blood as being of no diagnostic or therapeutic importance. Indeed, it was not till the advent of cardiac surgery nearly 300 years later that the knowledge that “blood is driven into a round by a circular motion” would find practical application.

    Given this, and other similar historical precedents, it seems unwise to argue that modern genetics is a blind alley—not least because it might more readily be described as a four lane highway.

    Since the discovery of the revolutionary techniques of gene sequencing in the late 1970s, modern genetics—together with neuroscience—has come to dominate the biomedical research agenda. Funding has doubled and doubled again in the recent past, reaching around $100bn (£65bn; €74bn) worldwide.1 This endeavour is immensely productive, generating billions of …

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