On April 5, Dr. Muin J. Khoury, founding director of the CDC's Office of Public Health Genomics, delivered the UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s annual Edward E. Penhoet Lecture. His lecture, “Public Health Genomics: from the Science of Discovery to the Science of Action,” addressed the future of the field of genomics, its applications to medicine and public health, and how it might translate into achieving health benefits at a population level.
“The technology is moving so quickly now that we’re talking about miniature DNA machines that are purported to do the whole sequence of a human being in a few hours and you can take it out in the field with you,” said Dr. Khoury in his lecture. “We can do a whole lot of things, but the question is, what do we do with it?”
In his lecture, Dr. Khoury defined “public health genomics” as a multidisciplinary field concerned with the effective and responsible translation of genome-based knowledge and technologies to improve population health. “We need to find the right balance,” he said. “We cannot afford to put things out prematurely and then hurt people and increase health care costs. At the same time we cannot prolong this agony of losing things that may be beneficial to people and increasing health disparities in our country and beyond. So public health genomics is the way forward for appropriate translation.”
Dr. Khoury founded the Office of Public Health Genomics to assess the impact of advances in human genetics and the Human Genome Project on public health and disease prevention. CDC's Office of Public Health Genomics serves as the national focus for integrating genomics into public health research and programs for disease prevention and health promotion.
Dr. Khoury has developed a number of successful ongoing national and international initiatives to translate advances in genomics and related technologies to recommendations and actions that improve health and prevent disease throughout the life stages. Examples of collaborative initiatives that he started are the Human Genome Epidemiology Network (HuGENet) and the Genomic Applications in Practice and Prevention Network (GAPPNet™). Since 2007, Dr. Khoury has served NCI as a senior consultant in Public Health Genomics.
Named in honor of Dr. Edward E. Penhoet, former dean of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, the annual Penhoet Lecture focuses on how biology, behavior and environment intersect to produce health.
By Linda Anderberg