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Genomics or Geriatrics? Which should I include in a cloud diagram on the back of my social media business card? (I know, business cards are not cool but it beats writing out 50,000 times at the upcoming conference I’m attending). Genomics sounds much more hip but in reality I know more about geriatrics.

Then I saw¬†Joe Biden’s very personal interview with Stephen Colbert and the fields of genomics and geriatrics were no longer separate but fused in a very moving way. Vice President Biden’s recent tragic loss of a his son humbles anyone who hears the interview. At age 72, Biden is a de facto member of the geriatric population and his son Beau died from brain cancer, a very difficult cancer to treat or cure, but because of genomics there is finally optimism for better treatments.

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 10.38.43 AMGeriatrics is the medical speciality of old people, usually using the cut off of 65 and older since that’s when people are covered by Medicare, the government subsidized health insurance program. People in this age group have different medical issues specific to getting older. Many people by this time have a few or many medical problems requiring a few or many medications that lead to medication interactions. Difficulties with seeing, hearing and being able to get around have a big impact on their health and lead to other medical problems. And there are issues with memory loss and the development of dementia which is impairment in the ability to figure things out, plan and make normal decisions.

Genomics is the study of a person’s whole DNA, all the genes in the 46 pairs of chromosomes in each person’s cells. A person’s DNA is specific to them but there are special tests and techniques to find differences or mutations in someone’s DNA which can cause disease.

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Just recently, genomic studies found that the most common form of brain cancer (glioblastoma multiforme) is really 4 different types of cancer. GM is a very aggressive cancer with a 2 year survival rate of only 17% , which means after 2 years, 87% of patients with this disease are dead. Genomics has lead to a tremendous breakthrough. Now we can find more specific treatment for each of these 4 types of cancer rather than treating everyone with GM brain cancer the same way with such poor results. More specific therapy means longer survival and a potential cure.

Genomics or Geriatrics? I have to include them both!

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