Will Gene Scanning Newborns Help or Hinder Their Future?

With genetic testing getting cheaper, scientists with the BabySeq project want to start offering testing to newborn babies. As well as interest in the study of genetics, scientists want to see what happens when parents know their child’s DNA blueprint right off the bat.

The DNA Study

Half of the study’s babies will have their protein-coding genes sequenced and screened for things associated with childhood diseases, this is called whole-exome sequencing. The other half will have a regular blood test that all newborns are offered, which screens for major genetic diseases. Following these babies will reveal whether the child’s genetic makeup could make them healthier, increase their health care costs or maybe even change their relationship with their parents.

The Big Point

Looking for genetic mutations and variations earlier can help as a child grows because many conditions aren’t apparent until there is a very serious threat to the individual. This allows for the treatment or prevention of diseases and conditions. The test also shows inherited mutations like BRCA2, which increases the risk of breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

The Controversies

The researchers have to deal with ethical problems surrounding the information they find. Originally, they had agreed to tell parents about the risks in childhood since newborns can’t decide whether they want to know the risks themselves. Things like the BRCA2 variant causes cancer in adults, not children so it wouldn’t be revealed.

It seems like a great idea, getting this test, so you can possibly prevent health issues in the future. However, 94 percent of parents approached say no to the test. Genetic information cannot be erased from medical records, which private institutions like insurance companies can get access to, so the question of privacy is still open.

For more about this study, a recent NPR story has more information.

To learn more about our DNA testing services, contact Test Smartly Labs of Independence today at (816) 379-3197.

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