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Genetics of Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

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Surely some—indeed, perhaps, many—people would argue about when precisely the era of the genetics of diseases really began, but the introduction of gene transfer and therapy concepts in the 1980s by French Anderson and colleagues from the National Institutes of the Health, the identification of the cystic fibrosis gene reported in Science in 1989 by L. C. Tsui from Toronto and F. S. Collins from the University of Michigan, and then the publication of the human genome in 2001, the ‘‘private one’’ in Nature and the ‘‘public one’’ in Science, have all been momentous events which have stimulated new and potentially important research. This expectation, but also a word of caution, was quite well articulated by Jean Marx, an editor of Science, in her comments in response to the identification of the cystic fibrosis gene: ‘‘The discovery . . . raises hopes for cystic fibrosis treatments, perhaps even new drugs or even gene therapy to replace the defective gene itself. (However), until a way can be found to deliver a functioning cystic fibrosis gene into lung cells, gene therapy will remain somewhat of a long shot, however’’ (Science. Vol 245, 1989).

Today, so many years later, the goals of better diagnosis and new therapies remain elusive, but the hopes and expectations remain high, even more so than years ago. The reasons for the unrelenting enthusiasm that patients will eventually benefit from the emerging new medicine based on the genome are the commitment of the research community and the productivity of its work, especially with regard to complex diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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