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The State of It

It's been a little more than 15 years since the kickoff of public health genomics, writes Muin Khoury, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office of Public Health Genomics, at the Genomics and Health Impact Blog. With technological improvements in whole-genome sequencing, it is increasingly being applied to detect and control infectious disease outbreaks as well as to determine which people are at increased risk of developing rare and common diseases.

"Although much of the field will be a work in progress for quite some time, an increasing number of genomic applications can actually save lives now by improving health and preventing disease in the US and worldwide," Khoury writes.

He adds that the CDC recently developed a classification scheme to assess the evidence for incorporating human genomic tests and applications into clinical or population settings. "The schema takes a population perspective for an emerging role for public health programs to supplement clinical practice," he writes. Newborn screening, he notes, is the largest public health genetics program, but other applications are also on, and being added to, the list.

"The next 5 years will require a closer collaboration among public health, healthcare organizations and the private sector to implement what we know to benefit populations," Khoury adds. "The public health community can serve as the honest broker for rapidly emerging applications and technologies, and help ensure that the tools of public health science are used appropriately to evaluate the health impact of genomics at the individual and population levels."