DNA Day 2022: Igniting a revolution
Each year, April 25 marks a celebratory event for Integrated DNA Technologies: DNA Day, a day to commemorate the discovery of the double helix and the completion of the Human Genome Project. On this day, we honor all that has been achieved and reinforce our commitment to bring communities, scientists, and the public together to collaborate and discover the next advances in genomic research.
To understand IDT’s role in the future of genomics, we sat down with IDT President, Demaris Mills, to learn what DNA Day means to her and what the road ahead looks like for genomics research.
Q: How has technology paved the way for genomics research?
A: Technology is an accelerator and enabler. It took a lot of time and money to explore the entire human genome decades ago; and, today, we can do that at such an accelerated pace because of technology. Through the foundational work and advancements in technology, resources have been freed up to allocate beyond just (gene) reading and understanding, to make practical applications, such as clinical work, COVID-19 testing, cancer screening, prenatal testing, as well as infectious and inherited diseases diagnostics. We’ve since advanced further to hone our use of technology in a way that allows us to make better decisions and improve outcomes. With the use of data, systems, software, and bioinformatics, we have gone from being flooded with data to navigate to solutions that can quickly and easily enable precise clinical decision making. The outcome is incredibly powerful.
Q: What are three ways we can ignite genomics to solve some of the world’s greatest health challenges?
Collaboration— Scientists collaborating to develop and advance science is an incredible thing to watch, but can be hampered by structural challenges in the system and market. We saw good examples of the breakthroughs that are possible through the COVID-19 pandemic, which set the stage for scientists to come together in new and inspiring ways. Together, as a scientific community, we are holding the pen and writing the future of medicine and of humankind; the more we can manage effective collaboration, the further we can go.
Education—Aided by the challenges brought on by the pandemic, one of the most powerful recent developments has been an improved acceptance of the research necessary to sustain life within the general population. Large parts of the human population were able to achieve immunization success in a brief period because the science was ready and waiting. It is critical to our future that we keep this momentum going.
Investment from businesses—The market is there. We must invest in earlier stage technologies, to funnel funding that allows them to experiment and grow. The more exploration and experimentation, the more we learn—fueling the innovation flywheel, where greater learning translates to newer, better technologies and continually furthers advancements.
Q: What myths do we need to dispel about the genomics industry?
A: The true intent of genomics. Today, the fear born out of misinformation/disinformation can be a major hinderance. In all medicine, there is no true 100% effectiveness, no 100% certainty. The human species is complex and highly unique, and there will always be outliers in medicine. We must learn to understand data, to trust in data, and to let this information drive toward a benefit for the many.
To get us there, it’s important that industry leaders help people to understand the good we are doing, and to make it easier for folks to be informed and see how science improves all aspects of life. While no scientist could or would ever promise 100% effectiveness for any treatment or therapeutic, we need to learn to look for and value the overall positive impact for humanity. At IDT, we're doing our part to create better understanding, and showcasing the connection of our work to the impacts it's having on the lives of people around the world.
Q: What does DNA Day mean to you?
A: DNA Day is an opportunity to reflect on where we started, to how far we have come, and the incredible acceleration we have experienced in the last few years. I truly feel we are at an exciting moment in time where we get to stand on the shoulders of those who built the foundation before us, and reach higher. We are at an inflection point to have real insights, and within our lifetime, see treatments be implemented in ways that impact real people. So much is going to change in the next 10 years … the experience with medicine could look very different in a mere decade. Imagine, you could be able to see all your genomic makeup, at your fingertips, and use this information to inform and instill confidence in your personalized medical choices. DNA Day is a wonderful time to celebrate all of that, and to build confidence and awareness around the good genomics is doing for humanity.
Q: Why is it important to promote STEM education in our communities, especially on DNA Day?
A: Ensuring future generations have access to and aptitude for the fundamentals of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics early on is crucial to our future. We need to be investing in programs that help prepare our children today for the new technology they need to use tomorrow. In recent years, data science, bioinformatics, and genomics and biochemistry have become instrumental to our understanding of the genome. The generations to come will be responsible for putting next phase into action—applying our learnings to revolutionize medical experiences and create positive impact on humanity.
Q: If you could inspire one movement to move the genomics industry forward, to bring good to the greatest number of people, what would that be?
A: I’m not sure I could inspire a movement, but I would love to help drive toward progress. I believe it has become increasingly important that we make the connection between science and impact on our daily lives and the lives of those we love. While IDT will be a big part of pushing genomics forward, to be successful, it will take all of us joining together and embracing the science to see meaningful progress.