of new technologies is a major goal. Areas of investigation include which genes the different cell types express and their proteins, the characteristics of these proteins, studies to determine their interactions, understanding signal transduction, and determining the nature of protein folding and the exact three-dimensional structure of proteins. As a rule, proteins that interact tend to work together, such as antibodies and their receptors. Identifying a protein active in some disease process offers a potential target for intervention. For this reason, the proteomics quest will be led and dominated by the quest to discover new drugs.

A key element in the success of genomics and proteomics has been and will continue to be bioinformatics, a field that in the broadest sense weds information technology and biology. Bioinformatics provides the computer systems and strategies needed to organize and mine databases, examine the relationship of polymorphisms to disease, ascertain the role of proteins and how they interact with other proteins, and inform the search for screening tests and therapeutic drugs. Once basically a data management tool, bioinformatics is now important in the analytical functions needed to support continuing progress in genomics and proteomics—not simply cataloging and warehousing data, but turning it into useful insights and discoveries. All this will require the development of new algorithms and computer strategies.

Neuroscience

Neuroscience provides but one example of the opportunities and advances that will accrue through a greater understanding of the extraordinarily complex activities within and among cells. The last three decades have brought a burst of knowledge about the brain—the routes of neurons throughout the organ, an understanding of neurotransmitters, synapses, and receptors, mappings of responses to various stimuli, and the linking of genes to biochemical networks, brain circuitry, and behavior. Physicians can now track the progress of neurological diseases in their patients with imaging techniques, and new insights into the processes of memory, learning, and emotions have emerged. One can expect the brain to yield far more of its secrets in the coming decade with the introduction of new probes, new imaging technologies, and improved bioinformatics techniques that integrate findings not only from neuroscience but from other research disciplines as well.

Nerve Death

Consider, as an example, neurodegeneration, which is a key element in ailments such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and its variant, commonly called mad cow disease. Evidence suggests a genetic component for each of these diseases, different degenerative mechanisms for each, yet with some similarities



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement