Tuesday, February 10, 2015

DNA from 1 Million Americans: A Gold Mine for Researchers


Among other things...

WASHINGTON – DNA and medical records from 1 million volunteers in the United States will provide a mother lode of data for scientists trying to determine the causes of cancer and other maladies with an eye toward individualized treatment and prevention.

The data gathering is part of President Barack Obama’s “precision medicine” initiative and the administration has included $215 million for the effort in its proposed 2016 budget.

Adolfo Ferrando, associate professor of Pediatrics and Pathology at the Columbia University Institute for Cancer Genetics, said Obama’s initiative “is the latest chapter” in the transformation of medicine through the incorporation of more detailed and specific information on how diseases work.

In the case of cancer, Ferrando said the identification of genetic markers for specific mutations has an impact on the selection of treatments, the intensity of treatment and, in some cases, on specific medications.

The presidential initiative’s novelty, he said, is that it will look at the global genome, not just specific gene mutations, and that it will include data from healthy individuals.

“The data collected will not be only about diseases the individuals may have, but also about activities that modulate gene activity: behavior, diet, and lifestyle,” he said.

The database, which includes privacy protections, will be available for the international scientific community, allowing researchers “to have a more comprehensive vision about the weight of genetic variations on the development of diseases,” Ferrando said.

While there is no estimate of when the database will be complete, Ferrando’s colleague Raul Rabadan, a theoretical physicist with Columbia University’s Department of Systems Biology, said “the plan is viable.”

Rabadan pointed out that the cost of sequencing a human genome has fallen from $100 million initially to roughly $3,000 now.

Both researches agreed that the challenge for the scientific community will be to develop methods to navigate the “ocean of data” and to convert the information into clinical tools with “predictive markers” for specific diseases.


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