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Public health in the genomic era: will Public Health Genomics contribute to major changes in the prevention of common diseases?

DOI: 10.1186/0778-7367-69-8

Keywords: Epidemiology, Genomics, Epigenomics, Prevention, Public Health, Public Health Genomics, Translational Research, Policymaking, Personalised Healthcare

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Abstract:

Only 50 years after the discovery of the DNA structure by James Watson and Francis Crick, the scientific world completed the sequencing of the entire human genome, the Human Genome Project. As a consequence, the field of human genome research knew a rapid discovery phase with international initiatives like the "1000 Genomes project" or the "Personal Genome Project" and the development of the necessary technological tools [1]. Furthermore, there was a rise in the research field of the -omics: (epi)genomics, proteomics, interactomics, metabolomics, nutrinomics... These domains of systems biology gave rise to a better understanding of the human physiology and pathophysiology [2].Although the terms 'genetics' and 'genomics' are sometimes used interchangeably, they have a different meaning. Genetics is the science of inheritance and focuses on Mendelian inherited traits where mostly a mutation in one gene causes the disease. Genomics is the study of a complex set of genes, their expression and how they interact with other genes and the environment to affect how a condition develops.Classically, there is a distinction between environmental and genetic diseases. However, this point of view has changed. There is hardly any disease without a possible genetic contribution. The common diseases, or the complex diseases, are caused by an interplay of different genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors. In 2006 the Institute of Medicine published a report in which it pointed out a critical need for transdisciplinary research that would integrate genomics and the biological sciences with the behavioural and social sciences, thus joining 'nature' and 'nurture' [3].Public health interventions have so far focussed on environmental-specific factors principally due to scientific and technological limits. The advances brought about by genomics are changing these perceptions. Exogenous influences will remain of vital importance for public health, but focussing merely on these influenc

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