As COVID-19 rages on across the world, scientists have been warning this won't be the last pandemic we will see spreading globally in our lifetime. New diseases are more than likely to emerge in fact, World Health Organization chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said epidemics are a fact of life.
But could humans one day become immune to all viruses like COVID-19 and even beat genetic diseases and reverse ageing?
Today, we speak with an eminent scientist who has long imagined this future for humanity. Dr. George Church is a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Center of Excellence in Genomic Science at Harvard.
In 1984, he developed the first direct genomic sequencing method, which resulted in the first commercial genome sequence in 1994.
Named one of TIME'S 100 most influential people in the world in 2017, Dr. Church has pioneered not only breakthroughs in genome research but has his innovations in next generation genome sequencing and synthesis, and cell/tissue engineering have produced more than a dozen companies including Nebula Genomics.
Welcome to the show, Dr. Church.
1. You took a DIY COVID-19 vaccine last year, well before the big pharmaceuticals got their candidates approved. Do you think it worked, and why did you agree to take this leap of faith? Should there be a new way of developing vaccines?
2. Do you think the response to COVID-19 in terms of developing vaccines and therapeutics could have been faster or better in any way?
3. What do you make of big pharma companies charging between 20 and 40 dollars per jab and keeping the recipe as exclusive as they can?
4. There seems to be a lot we don't know about COVID-19, with many questions unanswered. For instance: How long does the immune response last? Is a person safe from COVID-19 after their first vaccine dose? Will their vaccination protect them against other variants? Is there a way genetic science can answer these questions?
5. Could we soon see a world where we could become immune to infectious diseases? How do you hope science will tackle the threat of future epidemics?
Of course, we're expecting to see medicine become more precise, predictive, and preventative and personalised. In 1984, you devised the first-ever direct DNA sequencing technology. Today, with the help of computer science, we're seeing the evolution of next generation sequencing and new areas of application. But you tend to think and act decades ahead. How will genome science and artificial intelligence change daily life? What excites you the most about the future?
There are still concerns about privacy over our medical data one of the reasons why South Korea is seeing such slow progress in developing regenerative medicine. It also makes people uncomfortable that huge companies like Amazon and Walmart are getting into healthcare. How can people become empowered with their health information? How do the principles behind the Personal Genome Project and Nebula Genomics overcome these barriers?
Your research in ageing reversal has already helped tackle osteoarthritis, high-fat obesity and diabetes, heart damage, and kidney disease. This could improve health span and longevity.
First of all, how do you make our bodies act like they are younger and healthier? How far along are you in addressing other conditions that tend to come with ageing like cancer and neurodegenerative diseases?
When do you aim to start human clinical trials, and when do you see age reversing gene therapy hitting the market?
This is where we wrap up the interview today. Dr. George Church is a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. Thank you for your time.