How DNA sequencing has improved public health since the 2000s

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In honor of National Public Health Week, one direct-to-consumer genetic testing company suggested a key way DNA sequencing has driven improvements in public health — biobank development.

National Public Health Week, which took place April 2 to April 8, is an initiative of the American Public Health Association. Public health and genetics are often juxtaposed against one another, with researchers arguing which is more important: zip code or genetic code. However, in an April 5 blog post, San Carlos, Calif.-based Helix argued the two have worked hand-in-hand in recent years.

As DNA sequencing has become more accessible and less expensive, researchers have begun to develop biobanks, which comprise biological and medical information from thousands of participants. These biobanks support genome-wide association study, a research method that looks for links between a DNA sequence and human traits, for example, hair color or disease development.

"These biobanks enable GWAS to be performed using hundreds of thousands of individuals instead of just a few hundred or thousand," the blog post reads. "Over the past decade, thousands of large scale studies have been performed which have identified links between genetic variations and over 250 human traits."

As an example of a biobank that's fueling insights into the influence of genetics on public health, the Helix writers named the MyCode Community Health Initiative at Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger.

Geisinger's MyCode is a genomics program targeting patients across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Participants donate their DNA through a blood sample, and consent to researchers accessing their sequenced DNA data and EHRs to identify and study genetic variants that are linked to select diseases, such as cancer or Lynch syndrome.

"MyCode has an immediate impact on public health because they're able to sequence the DNA in search of known variants that predispose people to diseases, and provide feedback to people who have these variants," the blog post reads. "We've seen a boom in the number of large-scale projects using genetics to study public health — and there's no sign of it slowing down."

More articles on data analytics & precision medicine:
Northshore University HealthSystem to develop direct-to-consumer genetic risk tests for prostate cancer
Healthcare must 'free the data' to improve patient care, says Duke senior informaticist
Former US Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil: NIH must partner with Google, Amazon, others to drive AI advancements

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