If you’re interested in what an actually researcher thinks of the Microsoft announcement about intering the oncology research fied, there’s no better blog to turn to than In the Pipeline:
Put shortly – and these sorts of stories tend to put actual oncology researchers in a pretty short mood – the cell/computer analogy is too facile to be useful. And that goes, with chocolate sprinkles on it, for all the subsidiary analogies, such as DNA/source code, disease/bug, etc. One one level, these things do sort of fit, but it’s not a level that you can get much use out of. DNA is much, much messier than any usable code ever written, and it’s messier on several different levels and in a lot of different ways. These (which include the complications of transcriptional regulation, post-transcriptional modification, epigenetic factors, repair mechanisms and mutation rates, and much, much, more), have no good analogies (especially when taken together) in coding. And these DNA-level concerns are only the beginning! That’s where you start working on an actual therapy; that’s what we call “Target ID”, and it’s way, way back in the process of finding a drug. So many complications await you after that – you can easily spend your entire working life on them, and many of us have.
This idea that everything is solvable like a software problem is pure hubris and shows a profound ignorance of the field. It sounds too good to be true and as Theranos and 23andMe have shown, it often is.
In a follow up post about the Zuckerberg’s foundation and their plan to fight disease and affliction, Derek corrects some of the media hype and juxtaposition to the Microsoft announcement:
As for the rest of the money, there were a lot of headlines about “cure all diseases”, which does make you wrinkle your nose, but a closer look shows that it’s not as insane as that makes it sound. The language is to “prevent, cure, or manage” diseases, and the timeline is stated to be 100 years, which makes a lot more sense than Microsoft curing cancers in five. If we can keep our act together as a civilization, there’s no telling what biomedical science – or any science – will look like in a hundred years.