It’s been 16 years since the first human genome was sequenced. That undertaking took almost 15 years, cost billions of dollars, and revolutionized genetic research. Since then, new sequencing technologies have led to lower sequencing costs and quicker turnaround times. Sequencing a genome today takes weeks rather than years and costs thousands, not billions.
Improvements in genome sequencing have opened the door for large scale research studies. Instead of looking at a single genome, researchers can study many genomes and see how they differ. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced a large scale research study called All of Us, which aims to sequence at least one million genomes in the United States. The data will then be made available to researchers to study the intersection of genetics and health.
According to David Wellis, the CEO of the San Diego Blood Bank, “The All of Us Research Program has the potential to greatly enhance how we improve health and treat disease, supporting research studies that may help our medical community get the right treatments to the right people at the right time.” As Wellis suggests, a major goal of All of Us is to improve precision medicine.
Precision medicine is a way to personalize the treatment or prevention of disease using a patient’s genetic profile as a jumping off point. All of Us seeks to advance precision medicine by gathering unprecedented amounts of genomic data. This abundance of data will allow researchers to identify new patterns between genetics and health.
A key area where All of Us differs from past research studies is their emphasis on inclusion. Amy Taylor, the regional vice president of Community Health Center, Inc., says “we are going to provide opportunities for people that historically have not had the opportunity to participate in research.” They are actively seeking out data from groups that have been left out of past genetic studies. This approach allows more people to benefit from the research while closing the gap in data left by past studies.
All of Us has the potential for breakthrough discoveries of both common and rare disease. A better understanding of human genetics will extend precision medicine to the treatment of more diseases. Though this study doesn’t specifically target rare disease research, its findings will improve our understanding of human health and disease. If you are a U.S. citizen over the age of 18, you can register to have your genome sequenced on the All of Us website.
Author Bio: Zoe Mandese is a biologist who is enthusiastic about using genetic data to improve lives. In her day job, she works with DNA sequencing and analysis. Zoe is volunteering with the Rare Genomics Institute as a copywriter and blogger writing about the complex factors surrounding rare disease.