At TED2012, the world's leading thinkers and doers lined up at a Genentech exhibit, swabbed the inside of their cheeks and had their genes turned into a personalized piece of music that was delivered to them less than 24 hours later. While listening to their music, they learned what percentage of the 1,200 TEDsters had a sweet tooth based on their genetic profiles.
Our job as health communicators is to translate - take "high science" and make it meaningful. The speed of science and technology has opened doors for us to do our job in new, creative ways.
We must empower people to use new communication tools, participate in science, and improve their health. Patients taking medicines want to better understand them. They offer blood, sweat, and tears to help us learn why some people respond to certain medicines and others do not. With patients' input, Genentech tried something new, launching a first-of-its-kind completely Web-based study, called InVite. Participating from home, patients spit into a tube, submit their DNA, visit a website and answer surveys to determine if genes play a role in responding to medicine they are taking. By using the Web, social media, and genotyping technology, we are empowering patients and, hopefully, moving science forward.
Every person is unique. However, "patients" are often painted with broad strokes. While we associate the pink ribbon with breast cancer, people with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) that has spread beyond their breast may not relate to this symbol. To help, we created a program called Faces of MBC to provide people a voice and tools to connect with loved ones. Through YouTube and Twitter, people ex-plained what having MBC means. Through a Facebook application, people told friends and family what they personally needed - from encouraging words to rides to receive chemotherapy.
Faces of MBC garnered more than 35,000 video views and 200 application users in the first month. This tells us that, for communicators, serving as a conduit is as important as participating in the dialogue. Science and communication go hand in hand. Five years ago, projects like TED, InVite, and Faces of MBC would not have been possible, but now we can embrace and use new communications tools to pique people's interest, empower action, and push science forward to improve patients' lives.
Edward Lang Jr. is director of product PR at Genentech.