Tags: technology , research and discovery

With whole genome sequencing, it’s possible to tell patients years in advance what their future health may hold in store for them. But these possibilities raise new questions about the right way to handle such sensitive information. Now a government grant will help Partners HealthCare researchers look into the answers.

Over the next four years, Brigham and Women’s Hospital will use a $12.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to analyze 25,000 blood samples from the Partners Biobank to find genetic conditions that could point to hereditary diseases such as breast cancer or mood disorders. Researchers will deliver the findings to patients using our new Partners eCare system, then solicit their feedback about how they handled the news. They’ll also look at the psychological effects of receiving these results and the economic impact on the health care system.

In 2013, Partners became one of the first health care systems to offer whole genome sequencing to patients. Heidi Rehm, director of the Laboratory for Molecular Medicine at Partners HealthCare Personalized Medicine, and her team have been doing pioneering work in personalized genetic medicine for years, and this research will yield new insights into maximizing the benefits of genomic technology.

As The Atlantic reported yesterday, genome sequencing is already having a great impact in helping doctors diagnose rare conditions, like the genetic disorder that eluded 18-year-old Lilly Grossman’s doctors throughout her childhood. But now researchers are approaching the next frontier in genomics.

“Genomics is here today. It’s being used in clinical care, partly for diagnostics, but it’s not being used for preventive medicine in a broad way,” Rehm told The Boston Herald. This study will yield new insights to help realize genomics’ full potential to bring better care to patients.

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