Big Science III

The Promise of Personalised Genomic Medicine

Advances in genome sequencing mean that the reduced time and cost it takes to sequence an individuals’ genome (the whole of an organisms genetic material) has increased the capability to produce patient-specific data. Such capability is vital to enable genomics, the study and analysis of the genome, to interrogate the complex relationships between genes and health disorders. Beyond an understanding of such relationships, there is the therapeutic optimism that the research will translate into practical treatments for the public and potentially treatments that are specific to the individual. In amongst this spectrum of understanding by research scientists and hope by the public, is the commercialisation of such knowledge and technology by businesses keen to provide “direct to consumer” genetic testing. The future of genomic medicine depends on discussion about the future impact on society, both of its hopes and its fears.

Big Science III – a mound of cardboard boxes filled with illuminated delicately folded but empty paper wraps - questioned the expectations and consequences of personalised genomic medicine. The piece makes reference to past practices of the packaging of medicinal powders whilst at the same time referencing the therapeutic optimism surrounding genomic research. Big Science III was exhibited as part of 'Translation: From Bench to Brain' and was accompanied by a short text written by Dr Chris Groves, a research fellow at Cesagen (Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics). The text can be found on page 12 of the report that followed the exhibition.

A film of the wraps being made can be found here.


[The following text and illustration is from the Museum of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society]

Early medicines were prepared by soaking herbs in water or alcohol and drinking the resulting liquor. Later the whole or parts of herbs were crushed or powdered and taken with water. Minerals such as chalk were powdered and taken as medicine. Mixtures of powder were made in bulk and a portion (e.g. a teaspoonful) would be taken.
For more accurate dosage or for convenience, powders could be wrapped in separate doses. Each dose was weighed and wrapped in good quality paper as per the illustration.