nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Genetics Of Knee Injuries: Will The Sci-Fi Movie Gattaca Become A Reality?

New genetic studies show a correlation between certain genes (that govern cartilage and knee structure) and knee injuries, suggesting we may be closing in on predicting the likelihood of illness and injury later in life.

It sounds like the scenario played out in the sci-fi classic Gattaca could become a reality:
In the not-too-distant future, a less than perfect man wants to travel to the stars. Society has categorized Vincent Freeman as less than suitable given his genetic make-up and he has become one of the underclass of humans that are only useful for menial jobs. To move ahead, he assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow, a perfect genetic specimen who is a paraplegic as a result of a fall. With some professional advice, Vincent learns to deceive DNA and urine sample testing (IMDB)
The study that appeared recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (Sep, 2010), showed that fraternal twin girls experienced the same ligament tear due to sports injury, and an analysis of their knees showed they had similar knee structure and increased laxness in the joint.  The referenced study, and others discussed by the New York Times Well blog (Sep 29), link together to suggest that we can identify specific genes that regulate joint structure and the strength of cartilage.  Taken together the knowledge can combine to tell us whether close genetic relatives are more likely to experience the same kind of injury.

If we discover the genes that predispose to later injury, we could do positive things like develop prevention or correction efforts.  Or, on the bad side, we could use it to eliminate people from sports opportunities, career choices, or military service.  Why sign up a pro football player if he has a predisposition to injury, lost time from play, and long rehabilitation...but is still prone to re-injury?

The bad side of this knowledge is what's explored in Gattaca, one of my favorite movies.  In the movie, the profiling of humans into those who "can"  and those who 'can't" is one aspect of the movie's exploration of the philosophical cocept of personal identity:  what does it mean to be me?  Highly recommended.

This is not to say that we don't need this knowledge of genetic weaknesses.  Ideally, we would be able to prevent the adverse impact of genetic predispositions that are built into our future.

Which way we go--remove limitations or give opportunities only to the select few--will depend not only on the technology that's available, but also on our view of human freedom and responsibility.

Doc D

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