In an editorial, Nature says that sharing information on genetic variants discovered through clinical sequencing will be the key to progress in the field.
"With so many sequencing projects under way, clinicians are always eager to know whether a variant has been observed in patients at other institutions," the editorial points out. "Yet there is currently no quick, reliable, or convenient way to spread this information."
Furthermore, publication in the scientific literature is "slow," and data on many variants are not published. "Researchers need to be able to query not just variants in the literature, but also those that have been found in other patients but not reported," Nature says.
Issues such as the quality of sequencing data and information privacy play a role as well. As reported in our sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News, Nature News, ScienceInsider, and elsewhere, US President Barack Obama's Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues today issued recommendations for protecting whole-genome data, including the creation of laws to govern how data can be collected and shared and new guidelines for informed consent. It may be difficult for some institutes to align these recommendations with the call for greater openness.
Ultimately, Nature's editors say, "researchers must look at the genomes and health information of more people" in order to address these issues.
"Institutions must consider not just what is best for their particular situation, but also what is best for the broader community. A good place to start is for staff at genomics centers and hospitals to meet in person, to share experiences and best practices," they add.