Gene, Genomics and Networks

Gene, Genomics and Networks

Manoj Vimal
DOI: 10.4018/IJANTTI.2017010101
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Innovations in biomedical research have the potential to transform the healthcare diagnostics. Human genomics research is another approach which provides new tools and techniques by which life science researchers hope will help in predicting susceptibility towards common diseases. In this backdrop, this paper attempts to explore at the intersection of health, technology and society by attempting to understand as how human genomics approach can help the life scientists to unravel the disease susceptibility in case of human genetic disorders. Actor-Network Theory has been deployed as a theoretical framework as it gives some agency to non-human actors along with human actors. It has been argued in this paper that non-human ‘actants' play a decisive role in case of human genomics research. Rise of human genomics has been traced since the term ‘genomics' was first coined to the present day's promise and hope generated by the advances in human genomics. Some misconceptions and clarifications regarding ANT have also been discussed in this paper.
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Genomics has been defined by various institutions. Genomics is a more recent term that describes the study of all of a person's genes (the genomes1 including interactions of those genes with each other and with the person's environment of those genes with each other and with the person's environment. Genomics includes the scientific study of complex diseases such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, and cancer because these diseases are typically caused more by a combination of genetic and environmental factors than by individual genes. Genomics is offering new possibilities for therapies and treatments for some complex diseases, as well as new diagnostic methods (NHGRI).

Sociologist of science and technology Stuart Hogarth suggests that genomics transcend the traditional definition of genomics.

Genomics is a multi-faceted development involving new developments in basic science, clinical practice, commerce, regulatory practice and public policy… (Hogarth, 2007).

Fujimura argues that “Genomics” refers to the new world that molecular genetic sciences, computer sciences, and their institutional affiliates (the Human Genome Project) in the U.S., Japan and Europe have created. She further elaborates that this new world includes the scientific projects being conducted across the globe, the transformation of genes into commodities with major investments and high profit expectations by biotechnology companies and venture capitalists, present and potential medical applications, and social, legal, and ethical concerns about the consequences of these technologies (Fujimura, 2000).

Department of Biotechnology, Government of India through its policies, guidelines and regulation documents has lays special emphasis on genomics based research to address diseases of national concern where genomics could play a spearheading role in devising appropriate intervention and treatment by opening dedicated centres which will conduct genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and correlative biology research (NBDS-DBT, 2015). With technological advancements, human genomics research is also focusing on personalized healthcare in a big way, this can be seen in the context of rise in genomics based firms also over the world and also in India.

Here Actor-Network Theory (ANT) has been deployed as a theoretical framework. Gene, and machines used in human genomics research have been enrolled as a non-human ‘actants’. Human genomics researchers, their transnational collaborators, institutions make dynamic actor-networks. Key words and main concepts of ANT have been discussed (see Table 1). An attempt has been made to clarify the misunderstanding related to ANT in relation to agency given to non-human actors.

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