Mapping Genetics

Jan 20 2014, 04:05 IST
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SummaryRapid advances in genome research will benefit patients and create new avenues for pharma cos

One of the most important ongoing trends in medicine is the slow shift from general medical treatment to specific prescriptions and medicines tailored to individual patients. This shift is based on the fact that each of us has a different genetic makeup, which influences almost everything about us—notably, your genes determine your susceptibility to various diseases and how effective different types of medicines are in treating them. Over the years, research in DNA and genes has progressed tremendously, but a recent milestone should make personalised medicine not only economically viable but also the norm. A San Diego-based company, Illumina, announced last week that it has developed a genome sequencing machine that can deliver five genomes a day, for just $1,000 a genome. The $1,000 mark has been a target for scientists across the world for a decade now—the number is arbitrary, but it symbolises the rapidly decreasing cost of decoding genes. Before Illumina’s machine, genome decoding cost around $5,000, that figure itself a drastically lower sum than what the process cost five years earlier.

The point that must be made here is that $1,000 is still not a small enough sum to make the process available to the general public. However, the flip side is that decoding your genome can potentially save you thousands of dollar worth of future medical treatment. Doctors can not only tell from your genetic makeup whether you will get relatively-common ailments like diabetes, eczema and asthma, but also predict to a high level of accuracy whether you will get more dangerous diseases like cancer. In addition, they can prescribe specific medicines that will work best for you, saving you the added expense of medicines that are not all that effective. The ripple-effect of cheap genetic mapping will be felt not only on the patient side of things, but also in the pharmaceutical industry.

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