Two research teams have independently decoded the entire genome of patients to find the exact genetic cause of their diseases. The approach may offer a new start in the so far disappointing effort to identify the genetic roots of major killers like heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
In the decade since the first full genetic code of a human was sequenced for some $500 million, less than a dozen genomes had been decoded, all of healthy people.
Geneticists said the new research showed it was now possible to sequence the entire genome of a patient at reasonable cost and with sufficient accuracy to be of practical use to medical researchers. One subject’s genome cost just $50,000 to decode.
“We are finally about to turn the corner, and I suspect that in the next few years human genetics will finally begin to systematically deliver clinically meaningful findings,” said David B. Goldstein, a Duke University geneticist who has criticized the current approach to identifying genetic causes of common diseases.
Besides identifying disease genes, one team, in Seattle, was able to make the first direct estimate of the number of mutations, or changes in DNA, that are passed on from parent to child. They calculate that of the three billion units in the human genome, 60 per generation are changed by random mutation — considerably less than previously thought.