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Genetic Markers

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By Ajay Singh

Published Apr 1, 2007 8:00 AM


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Dr. Edward R. B. McCabe

The transformation of genetics into medicine's Holy Grail is one of the most fascinating sagas in medical science. Now, thanks to a remarkable Web-based project conceived and carried out at UCLA, anyone can share that story with the click of a mouse.

The "Oral History of Human Genetics" project is the brainchild of Edward R.B. McCabe, co-director of the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics, and executive chair of the Department of Pediatrics.

"All of us are very practiced at telling our stories, but one of the ways oral historians are exceptional is in probing new insights from stories that people have told many times," says McCabe. Of particular importance, McCabe adds, is how early pioneers entered the field and forged the scientific, professional and intellectual relationships that led to the revolution in genetics.

McCabe contacted UCLA's history department, which runs one of the nation's finest oral history programs. With initial funding from the American Society of Human Genetics in 2001, UCLA researchers Andrea Maestrejuan and Marcia Meldrum, and Nathaniel Comfort, a historian at Johns Hopkins University, conducted the first set of biographical interviews of 70 leaders in genetics and allied fields such as mathematics, ethics, sociology and law, including trailblazers such as David Rimoin, director of the UCLA Intercampus Medical Genetics Training program and director of the Medical Genetics Institute at Cedars-Sinai Hospital.

Since then, the project has received additional funding from the National Human Genome Research Initiative and the National Science Foundation. So far, 26 geneticists have been interviewed with several more scheduled over the next few months. Each interview highlights, among other things, how a geneticist's research contributed to the development of the science, from his or her specialized corner of the field.

Transcripts of the interviews will soon be posted on the project's Web site, www.socgen.ucla.edu/hgp/index.htm. It will also be possible to hear some of the oral histories on the Web site, and in some cases, watch video recordings of the interviews. The Web site will continue to add transcripts, audio and video files as the project proceeds.

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