U.S. proposes effort to analyze DNA from one million people

Feb. 2, 2015

According to a Reuters report: The United States has proposed analyzing genetic information from more than one million American volunteers as part of a new initiative to understand human disease and develop medicines targeted to an individual's genetic make-up.

At the heart of the initiative, announced Friday by President Barack Obama, is the creation of a pool of people – healthy and ill, men and women, old and young – who would be studied to learn how genetic variants affect health and disease. Officials hope genetic data from several hundred thousand participants in ongoing genetic studies would be used, and other volunteers recruited to reach the one million total.

The near-term goal is to create more and better treatments for cancer, Francis Collins, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. Longer term, he says, the project would provide information on how to individualize treatment for a range of diseases. The initial focus on cancer, he adds, is due partly to the lethality of the disease and partly because targeted medicine, known also as precision medicine, has made significant advances in cancer, although much more work is needed.

The president has proposed $215 million in his 2016 budget for the initiative. Of that, $130 million would go to the NIH to fund the research cohort and $70 million to NIH's National Cancer Institute to intensify efforts to identify molecular drivers of cancer and apply that knowledge to drug development. A further $10 million would go to the Food and Drug Administration to develop databases on which to build an appropriate regulatory structure; $5 million would go to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to develop privacy standards and ensure the secure exchange of data.

The effort may raise alarm bells for privacy rights advocates who in the past have questioned the government's ability to guarantee that DNA information is kept anonymous. They have expressed fear participants may become identifiable or face discrimination.

Read the full article on the Reuters website