cover image Tyranny of the Gene: Personalized Medicine and Its Threat to Public Health

Tyranny of the Gene: Personalized Medicine and Its Threat to Public Health

James Tabery. Knopf, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-525-65820-7

The quest for medical treatments tailored to patients’ genomes distracts from more effective means of addressing health problems, according to this incisive polemic. Tabery (Beyond Versus), a philosophy professor at the University of Utah, contends that “for most diseases, taking steps to prevent the development of illness is both more effective and more cost-efficient than trying to cure the disease after it arrives.” To illustrate, he notes that erlotinib, an expensive drug developed to treat lung cancer patients who match a particular genetic profile, only extends people’s lives by a few months and the resources that went into it could have instead been directed toward lowering environmental radon levels, removing asbestos, and implementing other prevention strategies. Tabery is a penetrating critic, positing that research on personalized drugs takes up an oversize share of funding because it’s more profitable than investigating environmental determinants of health. He also drives home the stakes of a disproportionate focus on genes, contending that the National Institutes of Health’s research into genomic explanations for poor health outcomes in Black communities obscures the wealth of research showing that environmental pollutants and lack of access to nutritious food are primary drivers of heart disease and diabetes. This damning take on scientific bias is not to be missed. Photos. (Aug.)