Sequencing the genomes of patients to reveal what ailments might mar their futures isn’t the best predictor for the most common diseases, according to a study involving thousands of identical twins.
Researchers found that most people would get negative results from having their genome sequenced for all but one of 24 identified conditions that includes heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. While the process can help spot many rare genetic disorders, it doesn’t appear to be a good predictor of who will suffer from the majority of illnesses, the authors wrote.
The key to preventing illnesses remains early prevention strategies, wrote Bert Vogelstein, a study author and professor at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore. Eric Topol, director of Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, said the results show sequencing is still at a very early stage.
“Before we abandon the importance of the DNA sequence, let’s get more data from large populations,” Topol, who wasn’t involved with the research, said in a telephone interview. “This is a moving target, this is a dynamic field.” .
Once millions of people have had their genomes sequenced, scientists may have a better idea about the likelihood of developing any number of disparate diseases, Topol said.
The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. It didn’t sequence individuals. Instead, researchers collected data from thousands of identical twins in five countries and used a computer model to determine the effectiveness of whole genome sequencing.
No Different Risk
The data suggested that the twins face no substantially different risk of getting the common diseases than the general public. They did find a difference with one disease: Alzheimer’s. In that case, only 12 percent of those with negative readings in their gene sequencing would be likely to develop the condition, according to the study.
Translating an entire human genome required more than a decade of research and billions of dollars by the government’s Human Genome Project, which completed the first sequence in 2003.
Now, Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd. plans to sell a genome sequencer the size of a USB memory stick for $900 by the end of this year and companies including Life Technologies Corp. and Illumina Inc. promise genomes sequenced in a day.