National DNA Day commemorates the successful completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953. The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) began celebrating DNA Day annually on April 25th after the 108th Congress passed concurrent resolutions designating it as DNA Day. The goal of National DNA Day is to offer students, teachers and the public an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the latest advances in genomic research and explore how those advances might impact their lives.

The Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics has been celebrating DNA Day in Illinois since 2008 in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Public Health and Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work. The Center reaches out to 100 health departments around the state each year to educate nurses and clients about the importance of family health history and newborn screening in diagnosing rare and common diseases in order to improve health and save lives. Original materials are created and an educational webinar is held in cooperation with the Illinois Critical Access Health Network offering one free hour of continuing education credit for nurses that participate. This year’s offering is Better Together: Culturally Competent Nursing Practice to Achieve Better Birth Outcomes for Latina and African-American Mothers. For more information or to register, visit:

But the larger mission of educating the general public about the latest advances in genomic research and its impact on individuals and families should not be overlooked. Rapid advances in genetic technology since the completion of the Human Genome Project has allowed physicians and researchers to use information about a person’s genetic make up to prevent, diagnose and treat disease. This new approach to medicine is called personalized or precision medicine as the focus is on identifying which approaches will be effective for which patients based on genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.

Pharmacogenomics, an outgrowth of precision medicine, is the study of how genes affect a person’s response to particular drugs. This relatively new field combines pharmacology (the science of drugs) and genomics (the study of genes and their functions) to develop effective, safe medications and doses that will be tailored to variations in a person’s genes. This methodology is currently being used successfully in some cancer treatments where specific information about a person’s tumor is used to plan and monitor individualized care.

“Probably at no time in the history of medical research has there been more potential and promise for discovery that will benefit mankind in terms of the health of the species as where we are right now as a result of the Human Genome Project.”[1]  And that’s something to celebrate on National DNA Day this year!

[1] McMullan, Dawn, What is Personalized Medicine? It’s a changing world of healthcare. What you need to know about the movement fueled by genomic testing and tailored treatment.