The National Institutes of Health has awarded $6 million to BabySeq, a project that aims to sequence babies' genomes from birth and see how genomic information affects medical treatment.
Robert Green of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and his colleagues plan to enroll 240 healthy babies from Brigham and Women's and 240 sick babies from Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children's Hospital. The researchers will sequence half the babies in each group and give the genomic information to their doctors. They will track all of the babies for at least a year, comparing the sequenced to the unsequenced babies. The project will include finding ways to distill the enormous amount of genomic data produced into reports that doctors can understand.
Green and his team are putting together the BabySeq's protocol, which an Institutional Review Board must review for ethical soundness before the project can start. If this pilot study is success, the scientists might follow up with a study using 10,000 babies. Green says that with the smaller study, the researchers have only a slim chance of encountering any mutations that could be devastating to a child's health.
With genomic sequencing performed on a larger scale, a doctor could be able to tell if a baby was born with a mutation for a disease such as leukemia or for a sensitivity to certain medications.
Green says that he is glad the research will force those debating the ethics of genomic medicine to think about real people, rather than abstract situations.