Routine DNA Sequencing May Be Helpful And Not As Scary As Feared – NPR

Whole genome sequencing could become part of routine medical care. Researchers sought to find out how primary care doctors and patients would handle the results.

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Whole genome sequencing could become part of routine medical care. Researchers sought to find out how primary care doctors and patients would handle the results.

Cultura RM Exclusive/GIPhotoStock/Getty Images/Cultura Exclusive

Advances in technology have made it much easier, faster and less expensive to do whole genome sequencing — to spell out all three billion letters in a person’s genetic code. Falling costs have given rise to speculation that it could soon become a routine part of medical care, perhaps as routine as checking your blood pressure.

But will such tests, which can be done for as little as $1,000, prove useful, or needlessly scary?

The first closely-controlled study aimed at answering that question suggests that doctors and their patients can handle the flood of information the tests would produce. The study was published Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine.

“We can actually do genome sequencing in normal, healthy individuals without adverse consequences — and actually with identification of some important findings,” says Teri Manolio, director of the division of genomic medicine at the National Human Genome Institute, which funded the study. Manolio wrote an editorial accompanying the paper.

“There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of hope about this new technology and how it’s going to revolutionize medicine,” says Jason Vassy, a researcher at the VA Boston Healthcare System and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who led the study. “But at the same time, there are a lot of fears and a lot of concerns.”

Vassy acknowledges that routine genome sequencing could overwhelm doctors and patients with confusing and sometimes alarming information, leading to anxiety and stress, as well as expensive and sometimes dangerous follow-up testing.

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