What is genomics?
The Human Genome Project was launched in 1990 with the goal of sequencing a human genome for the very first time. The Human Genome Project took 15 years and cost $2.7 billion in 1990 monetary value. Today, genomic sequencing can be done in a few weeks, at a cost of a few thousand dollars.
As technology in this area improves and becomes more accessible, medical research and clinical practice is moving away from genetic testing (e.g. looking for variants in the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2), towards testing the whole genome, or genomic sequencing.
Genomic sequencing offers huge benefits. It is currently being used to predict disease risk, diagnose patients, and guide treatment, and its use is expected to grow exponentially in coming years as science and technology continues to advance healthcare.
Genomics is driving the emerging field of ‘precision medicine’, which involves treating individual patients based on the particular genetic causes of their cancer, as opposed to uniform approaches to treatment like chemotherapy. Patients will receive individualised targeted treatment options with a smaller amount of side effects and focused treatment timeframes.
Genomic sequencing can also identify the cause of rare genetic diseases in children, who may otherwise be undiagnosed.
However, while it offers huge benefits, genomic sequencing also presents a range of challenges.
The research and technology is progressing rapidly, which means the information gained is moving faster than our knowledge about how it will affect our lives. While the issues can be addressed and overcome, it’s crucial that we consider them to make sure patient wellbeing is the priority.