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The Basis for Gene Therapy FREE TO VIEW

Toby L. Merlin, MD
Chest. 2003;123(3):968. doi:10.1378/chest.123.3.968
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By Walter J. Burdette. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 2001; 204 pp; $51.95

Progress in understanding the genetic basis of disease has come at a dizzying pace. Investigators in molecular biology and genetics struggle to keep up with the rapidly expanding and changing science of genetics. Practicing clinicians, especially those (like myself!) who last formally studied genetics decades ago, often feel left in the dust.

Dr. Burdette has written this succinct text as a primer on molecular genetics, specifically for an audience of clinicians who want to “catch up” in their understanding of molecular genetics and its implications for the treatment of human disease. Dr. Burdette is well qualified for the task. He has worked for many years in the field, as a primary researcher in cancer genetics and a research advisor to the National Institutes of Health and American Cancer Society. He understands both the field of molecular genetics and the knowledge gap of many clinicians.

The book is a primer. It covers all of molecular genetics and genetic therapy in 167 pages of text, divided into 29 chapters and a postscript. It summarizes and condenses large and complex areas into a few pages of narrative. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach, of course. The great advantage is that it provides the reader the opportunity to gain a broad overview of a wide-ranging field in a few hours of reading. On a long plane ride or a couple of evenings, one can get an understanding of the basics—at least the primary concepts and technologies—of molecular genetics.

The great disadvantage of this approach is clear as well. There is just no way anyone can condense all of molecular genetics and genetic therapy into 167 pages of text without leaving out a great deal. The narrative in The Basis for Gene Therapy sometimes seems telegraphic. It is like reading good lecture notes, without being able to attend the lecture. Depending on the reader's own knowledge gaps, the three pages of text on the cell cycle, the page and one third on the immune system, or the two-page discussion of calculating risk in clinical genetics may just raise more questions than are answered.

Molecular genetics is a rapidly evolving field. Even though The Basis for Gene Therapy is recently copyrighted (2001), it does not (and could not) cover the most recent findings of the Human Genome Project, including the analyses of the working draft of the entire human genome published in February 2001, and the recently revised estimate (from 100,000 to 30,000) of the number of human genes. The book does succeed, however, in what it sets out to do. It provides a way for the practicing clinician, with a minimal investment of time and effort, to quickly become more conversant in a highly complex and important field.




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