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Danielle M. Dick, Ph.D.

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SW: What are the day-to-day applications of your research?

DD: Part of the idea behind the vast resources and excitement that surrounds genetics research today is the hope that genetics will move medicine from a treatment-based model to a prevention-based model. We are all at risk for something – some of us are [just] more at risk for some disorders than others. Some people can drink socially without ever developing problems. For others, alcohol consumes “Part of the idea behind the vast resources and excitement that surrounds genetics research today is the hope that genetics will move medicine from a treatment-based model to a prevention-based model.”and destroys their lives. Knowing an individual's risk for various problems can empower them to make choices to help avoid ever-developing problems. But in order to reach this promise, we need to know the genes involved in different disorders, and the environments that are critical in reducing (and/or exacerbating) risk among those who are susceptible, so that we can use this information to eventually develop more targeted and informed preventions and interventions. I hope my research is contributing to that effort.

SW: What do you see as the future of genetics research?

DD: The field of genetics has changed rapidly over the last quarter century. The genetics that most of us learned in biology – focused on single gene disorders where genes were destiny and determined whether or not you had a disorder – is not the way that genetics works for alcohol dependence and most major health conditions. In addictions, we know that genes play a role, but there is no single "gene" for alcohol dependence. Rather, there are many genes – no one knows exactly how many, maybe hundreds! – each with a relatively small effect, that come together to create an individual's risk level for developing problems. But even still, genes are not destiny. No one is destined to become an alcoholic. Some people may be more or less likely to develop problems based on their inherent biology, but the environment still plays a critical role. Enhancing the public's understanding of probabilistic genetics – many genes, each with a small effect, and the critical role of the environment – will be critical if we are to bring our findings to the public and ultimately use this information to improve lives in the future.

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