Diana W. Bianchi, MD, Executive Director of MIRI, traveled to Washington with George Church, PhD, the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Jennifer Doudna, PhD, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology and of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley to brief a Congressional panel and The White House Office of Science Technology Policy on genetic technologies. It was part of the Personal Genetics Education Project (pgEd) at Harvard Medical School. The project’s mission is to increase public awareness of genetics issues. It also seeks to engage lawmakers in these discussions.
As the clock above her in the “Gold Room” periodically ticked to signal a vote in the House or Senate chamber - an anachronism from the non-digital past - Dr. Bianchi and her colleagues outlined the latest advances and far-reaching possibilities of genomics.
To an overflow crowd, Dr. Bianchi explained how genomic testing has really changed prenatal diagnosis. Non-invasive prenatal tests analyze the cell-free fetal DNA that is present in maternal blood, screening for chromosome additions or deletions that indicate Down syndrome and other genetic anomalies.
Her laboratory at MIRI is investigating neuro-development in mouse models of Down syndrome. She and her team hypothesize that in utero treatment will improve fetal brain development. Treatment in pregnant women could begin as early as 12 weeks following a confirmed diagnosis of fetal Down syndrome and continue until delivery at 40 weeks.
“We think the future is linked to treatment,” Dr. Bianchi said. “Linking prenatal treatment with prenatal diagnosis creates novel opportunities to minimize problems before they fully manifest.”