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The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine Hardcover – January 5, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A medical revolution is upon us and bestselling author Collins (The Language of God), director of the National Institutes of Health, does a fabulous job of explaining its dimensions. Our knowledge of the genetic basis for disease has increased exponentially in recent years, and we are now able to understand and treat diseases at the molecular level with personalized medicine—care based on an individual's genetic makeup. Collins presents cutting-edge science for lay readers who want to take control of their medical lives. In an enjoyable form, he discusses cancer, obesity, aging, racial differences, and a host of other concerns. Most fascinating is the way Collins discusses the medical advances currently in place and those soon to come that are directly attributable to the federal government's Human Genome Project, headed by Collins, and which mapped the entire human genome. Collins is also not shy about taking on large political issues. He points out problems with our current health-care system, discusses stem-cell research, and in a cogent commentary, recommends—with caveats—direct-to-consumer DNA testing. By using case studies throughout, he does a superb job of humanizing a complex scientific and medical subject. Illus. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

Currently chief of the National Institutes of Health, Collins directs this work to those considering researching their double helix to assess their risk for hereditary diseases. Providing an idea of how risks are reckoned, ranging from certainty to probabilities, Collins gives a general explanation of both the Mendelian idea of dominant and recessive genes and the molecular biology of DNA. Collins’ work is then organized by various diseases such as cancer, on which a vista of diagnostic opportunity has opened due to the decoding of the human genome (Collins was the leader of the government’s decoding effort). With his prose reflecting a palpable excitement at the prospects of this new form of medicine, which he rates as nothing less than a revolution in human health, Collins combines uplifting cases of direly afflicted people who benefited from knowledge gained by genetic screening, with exhortation of the reader to learn about and take advantage of existing and developing techniques of genetic screening. Expect significant patron interest in Collins’ combination of science and practical information. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061733172
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061733178
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #367,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., helped to discover the genetic misspellings that cause cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington's disease, and a rare form of premature aging called progeria. A pioneer gene hunter, he led the Human Genome Project from 1993 until 2008. For his revolutionary contributions to genetic research, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, and the National Medal of Science in 2009. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has a longstanding interest in the interface between science and faith. He currently serves as the Director of the National Institutes of Health. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, and in his spare time he enjoys riding a motorcycle and playing guitar.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By R. Schultz VINE VOICE on March 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book provides both academic and practical information about the latest developments in DNA research. Some of the practical advice could help you reach educated decisions about what medical treatments to pursue. It's likely that even many doctors aren't yet aware of certain kinds of DNA tests that can be crucial indicators about which treatments might be effective and which ones might actually be lethal.

For example, any woman contemplating having a prophylactic mastectomy might want to read this book first to learn about how new BRCA tests could more accurately predict her chances of eventually getting many forms of cancer. DNA tests available now can help a woman who has already been diagnosed with cancer determine whether certain forms of chemotherapy would help her, or whether they would just be needlessly, and perhaps fatally, debilitating.

There is also a DNA test that would alert doctors that certain people might have a special sensitivity to coumadin, a drug widely used as a blood thinner. Many medical centers don't perform this test before coumadin is prescribed, and excessive bleeding and even lethal hemorrhaging can be the result.

A small percentage of people have a toxic reaction to statins, the drugs now commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol. A DNA test now available could identify those people for whom the drugs might pose dangerous problems.

But DNA analysis doesn't have to be limited to the human's normal genome. By analyzing the genome of the cancer cells themselves, doctors can now refine their treatments.

Collins covers a variety of such topics that it would really benefit any urgent consumers of medical care to educate themselves about before proceeding with treatment.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By And Then Some Publishing LLC on June 1, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine
Book Review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

Before I was a speech-communication major in college--and since I was in the ninth grade in junior-high-school, I might add--I wanted to be a doctor. Most of my courses in high school and early college were all science courses. My interest in science did not wear off, and when I graduated from the University of Michigan, I had to make general science a minor since I had had so many courses in the area, and my graduation would have been delayed for at least a year if I had to pick up a new minor. All this is explanation for my love of science and, thus, of this book.

Collins has written a science book on DNA for the masses, and I absorbed the information like a sponge in water. It is a terrific read not just for Collins' unbelievable knowledge, the revealing and interesting examples cited, the comfortable, readable, and friendly writing style, or even the specific detail he offers: "The best-understood genes are those that code for protein. This process involves first making an RNA copy of the DNA; that RNA is then transported to the ribosome `protein factories' in the cytoplasm, where the letters of the RNA code are translated into the amino acids used by proteins....This translation is carried out using a triplet code word; for example, AAA in the RNA codes for the amino acid lysine, and AGA codes for arginine" (p. 7). Most of the language is not of this style and not nearly as complex.

But, getting back to my point about why the book is a terrific read. The book is a terrific read because of how it relates to us all.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Robinson on February 19, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have just finished reading "the Language of Life". I enjoyed reading it. It was much better than I was expecting. The coverage of genetics was at such a level that it was easy to understand (perhaps too easy?). It's difficult not to catch Francis Collins' optimism and enthusiasm as to the promise of mapping the human genome, and being able to work out which genes are really important in producing malignant tumours, and hence which genes are promising targets for treatment strategies. Previously, because mapping the genome was so difficult and expensive, it was difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish the important genes in tumours, from unimportant mutations resulting from increased cell division or loss of DNA repair genes.

I only have a few quibbles. I don't think it is useful to define mutations as being always harmful, everything else just being variants. Mutations can be harmful, beneficial and neutral (the usual situation).

Secondly, I didn't like the end of each chapter, where he has a "What you can do now to join ... revolution?" Generally, it's a website providing information. The chapter on ageing has a beauty of a web address for [...] ... with a long sequence of letters, numbers and symbols, which navigates to I don't know where. I found the tool easily just navigating from the homepage (the address was much shorter, I wonder if Francis Collins gave the address for his results?).

Thirdly, I think that missing out on the mitochondrial story with regard to ageing, is missing the most important cause of ageing.
Nick Lane's book "Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life" is a good book for the discussion of this.
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