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Starting Early

This post has been updated to clarify a comment from Robert Green to the Nature News Blog.

The US National Institutes of Health has made four awards, totaling $25 million over five years, to study whether sequencing the genomes of newborns can uncover more useful medical information than current newborn screens can, according to the agency.

With their pilot grant, Robert Green and Alan Beggs at Brigham and Women's Hospital will be studying how to incorporate genomic data into pediatric care and report results to parents — Green's team is still determining what “appropriate risk variants to return” for infants and children, the Nature News blog adds.

Stephen Kingsmore at Children's Mercy Hospital, meanwhile, will examine how genomic data can be used to help treat neonatal intensive care patients and work to decrease the turnaround time in getting results back.

Additionally, the University of California, San Francisco's Robert Nussbaum will be studying the potential of exome sequencing to uncover conditions currently screened for in newborns as well as other disorders, as well as parents' interest in receiving such results.

Finally, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Cynthia Powell and Jonathan Berg will be looking into the challenges, including ethical, legal, and social issues, to implementing newborn genome screening in diverse populations. They will be reporting medically actionable results to parents, the Nature News blog notes.

“One can imagine a day when every newborn will have their genome sequenced at birth, and it would become a part of the electronic health record that could be used throughout the rest of the child’s life both to think about better prevention but also to be more alert to early clinical manifestations of a disease,” Alan Guttmacher, the director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is funding the new program along with the National Human Genome Research Institute, says to Nature News blog.

GenomeWeb Daily News has more on this here.