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Whole Genome Reveals Risk Of Diseases, Adverse Drug Responses

April 30, 2010

Study demonstrates that whole-genome analysis may play future role in clinical medicine

Scientists at Stanford and Harvard Universities collaborated to assess the clinical usefulness of analyzing a patient’s full genome for disease risks and unusual drug responses. The work brings closer to reality the concept that whole-genome sequencing might one day play a clinical role.

The analysis, which was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), appears in the May 1, 2010 issue of Lancet.

The authors evaluated the entire genome of a 40-year old man and compared it to several databases of disease-related gene variants. They also factored in the patient’s medical and family history and statistical disease risks. As part of the work, the researchers provided the patient with genetic counseling and clinical tests relevant to his family history.

The genome analysis revealed variants associated with diseases in the man’s family (osteoarthritis, vascular disease and early sudden death). It also uncovered variants linked to conditions not in his family (iron overload and thyroid and parathyroid diseases). Some variants suggested that he might have unusual responses to certain heart medications, which is meaningful in light of his risk for cardiovascular disorders.

The authors view their work as a proof of concept that whole-genome sequencing can yield clinically useful information for individual patients. They acknowledge that many challenges remain, including the effect of the environment, which is difficult to quantify and often changes throughout a person’s life. The paper concludes that the transition to genome-informed medical care will require an integrated team including medical and genetics professionals, ethicists and health-care delivery organizations.

Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), which played a leading role in supporting the research, is available to comment on this article.

In addition to NIGMS, the work was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; the National Human Genome Research Institute; and the National Library of Medicine.

Reference: Ashley EA, Butte AJ, Wheeler MT, Chen R, Klein TE, Dewey FE, Dudley JT, Ormond KE, Pavlovic A, Morgan AA, Pushkarev D, Neff NR, Hudgins L, Gong L, Hodges LM, Berlin DS, Thorn CF, Sangkuhl K, Hebert JM, Woon M, Sagreiya H, Whaley R, Knowles JW, Chou MF, Thakuria JV, Rosenbaum AM, Zaranek AW, Church GM, Greely HT, Quake SR, Altman RB. Clinical assessment incorporating a personal genome. Lancet, Volume 375:Pages 1525-1535, May 1, 2010.

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