With genome/DNA sequencing expenses decreasing and artificial intelligence being utilized to assess the vast amounts of data, the time of specific individualized treatment is drawing nearer. Over 50 percent of Icelandic people have had their exact genetic blueprints sequenced and examined. Thousands of these genes have been completely sequenced by the genome analysis group, deCODE Genetics, at the palatable price of just $600 per person.
“Compared with the cost of an MRI scan, it isn’t that huge,” says Kári Stefánsson, founder and Chief Executive Officer of the company.
The objective of this campaign is to better our understanding of disease as well as to establish niche medicines based on an individual’s specific genetic attributes. Certain people metabolize some medicines faster than others, which can drastically affect the necessary treatment plans.
“We have started to apply artificial intelligence to mine these enormous datasets,” says Stefánsson. “And all of this is generating insights into the diversity of man, into the nature of disease, and the response to treatment.”
Similar projects are also taking place in Estonia
Analogous operations such as this are underway elsewhere too. Estonia’s inhabitants are being encouraged to volunteer their DNA for analysis through a test called an SNP array, also known as “a poor man’s sequence of the genome,” says Professor Andres Metspalu, head of the Estonian Biobank at the Institute of Genomics, University of Tartu.
The DNA is being examined for 700,000 gene mutations associated with medical conditions, and the findings are being shared with the participants of the program.
“Looking at all the genetic associations, we’ve found that there is plenty of information that we can return to individuals to use in the healthcare system,” says group leader in pharmacogenomics and deputy director of the Institute, Professor Lili Milani. “For example, people carrying mutations giving high risk of certain diseases, and also monogenic conditions such as breast cancer mutations.”
An individual’s chance of having cardiovascular disease or diabetes can depend greatly on their genetics as well as their way of life, so making this type of information available to the participants is an important yet delicate factor.