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Report Advises DoD to Use Personal Genomics

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – An independent group that provides scientific advice to the US Department of Defense has suggested that DoD start collecting and making plans to use personal genomic data in its health care programs and in making some of its personnel decisions.

The DoD "can benefit significantly" by using genomics technologies in evaluating health and performance characteristics, and it should "take a leading role" in using personal genomics data, according to a new report from JASON, a group of scientists that works through the non-profit MITRE Corporation and has been advising DoD since 1960.

Charged with considering the impact of advances in genome sequencing and personal genomics over the coming decade, JASON proposed that DoD should set policies to begin collecting genotype and phenotype data and start using related bioinformatics tools in military health care.

The group also advised that the department should establish policies aimed at anticipating and resolving the potential ethical and social issues that may arise from such personal genomics activities.

"As the revolution in personal genomics proceeds, the military stands to benefit by implementing genomic technologies that enhance medical status and improve treatment outcomes," JASON stated in the report.

"Furthermore, both offensive and defensive military operations may be impacted by the applications of personal genomics technologies through enhancement of the health, readiness, and performance of military personnel," the group explained.

The JASON report, called "The $100 Genome: Implications for the DoD," offers a few major recommendations for the military health system.

First, DoD should establish procedures for collecting and archiving DNA samples and data and should plan for the eventual collection of complete human genome sequence data from all military personnel. The department will need to plan for a secure, long-term storage of DNA sequence data, and should begin preparing for the collection of epigenome and microbiome data where it is appropriate.

DoD also will need to determine which phenotypes are most relevant to its needs, it should partner with health care professionals to collect and store the data it collects, and it should start planning to use bioinformatics tools to correlate genetic information with phenotypes to discover linkages between datasets that will ultimately allow genotype data to be used productively, the group advised.

JASON argued that the cost of DNA sequencing is plummeting and that the $100 genome "is nearly upon us," which will lead to a need for "substantial developments" to correlate genotype and phenotype data, such as enhanced computational systems.

"The era of personal genomics has already begun, but the practical application of genomic information has thus far been limited," JASON said.

Substantial developments are still needed to correlated genotype to phenotype "which is limited by quality phenotype data and computational systems required to make correlations," the report said.

But, JASON said, DoD, as well as the US Department of Veterans Affairs "may be uniquely positioned to make great advances in this space."

"DoD has a large population of possible participants that can provide quality information on phenotype and the necessary DNA samples. The VA has enormous reachback potential, wherein archived medical records and DNA samples could allow immediate longitudinal studies to be conducted," JASON explained.