Genetic Medicine: How Does it Play In South Dakota?

Forget Peoria. Sioux Falls is the new arbiter of American values. Especially when it comes to the portent of genetics on public health. A very telling story in the Sioux Falls, SD, Argus Leader about the implications of genetic medicine. It is a 500 word story (ie, short), and it's a great indication of where the perception of genetic medicine is in the greater US (I say this as a Minnesotan; I have no prejudice against South Dakotans, on the contrary. Wisconsinites, on the other hand...). The story hinges on the visit of a speech by Eugene Hoyme, a geneticist and "Dell Rapids native who recently became chief pediatric medical officer for Sanford USD Medical Center," according to the Argus Leader. (USD is University of South Dakota).

So what's the perception of genetic medicine in South Dakota? Here's where things stand:

Doctors now can perform genetic testing to determine how predisposed a person is to certain diseases or conditions. But that same advantage also can have potential downfalls, Hoyme said, as people could be labeled or stigmatized by their genetic makeup and likelihood for disease. There also are questions of how people react to diagnoses of genetic conditions, Hoyme said.

Seems pretty straightforward, right? Indeed, kinda stuff we knew about five or ten years ago? Well, to me, this is a very serious corrective on the excitement (hype?) about personalized medicine. I don't doubt that Hoyme knows his stuff. But it turns out that genetic medicine, as practiced in SD, is pretty much straight monogenic testing, the sort of stuff that has been clear and sound practice for a years. The frontier of genetic medicine - SNP based stuff, etc. - hasn't hit Sioux Falls. Indeed, it seems a dozen years away from Sioux Falls.

I note this not to condescend to South Dakota, which is a great state and has smart scientists. In fact, some of my best friends are from South Dakota. Really. I'll name them if I have to.

But the story, and the recounted state of genetic medicine, is a nice corrective for the genomic-frontier crowd on where the perception, and perhaps the actual applicability of genetics, actually stands.

We in California or New York or the forefront of genomic medicine anywhere might perceive the staus quo as a world where we discern all sorts of truths from our genes - or rather, may we may be about to discern such truths. In fact, back in Sioux Falls, they're not so ready to swear themselves to genetics. They get it - there are things to be learned - but its not the be all/end all.

Me? I think the Argus Leader may be kinda right.