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Thu, Sep 8, 2016 at 12:00 AM

How genomic sequencing is changing the future of medical care

Thanks to ground-breaking genetic research being done at the HudsonAlpha Institute in Huntsville, the future of medical care is rapidly changing.

For instance, sick people who have never gotten an accurate diagnosis may get one immediately following genetic testing. The same test can specify which medications will be most effective in a particular individual. Eventually as testing costs drop, people can choose to do genomic sequencing routinely to share medical information with their doctor, and to inform their children of any inherited conditions.

“What we’re doing is the most advanced genomic sequencing on the planet,” Dr. David Bick, medical director of the Smith Family Clinic for Gnomic Medicine on the HudsonAlpha campus, told a crowd at the 9th Annual Lake Guntersville Chamber of Commerce Healthcare Breakfast.

What can genomic sequencing do?

Once you’ve sequenced an entire genome, it never has to be done again because it never changes over a lifetime. Dr. Bick believes the decision about how much information a person wants is best left to them rather than scientists.

“They’re in charge of their own genome,” he said. “We’re only here to help you find what you want to know.”

A critical area for sequencing is in the fight against cancer, which Dr. Bick defines as a genetic condition that occurs when a cell develops a mistake – a genetic change that causes it to become a cancer cell. Now, thanks to sequencing, doctors can better target therapies to kill cancer. One of the leading oncologists at the Marshall Cancer Care Center agreed that these advancements will alter the way the disease is handled.

Dr. Gideon Ewing, a local oncologist, agreed that the future of cancer treatment will focus on sequencing rather than worrying about where the disease came from.

“That is the way cancer treatment is heading,” he told the crowd.

How available is genomic sequencing?

Not so long ago, it took scientists 27 hours to complete one case of genomic sequencing. Now that has been drastically reduced to two hours. In some cases it takes only a few minutes using the latest software developed at HudsonAlpha.

The cost of genomic sequencing also has been dramatically reduced. Five years ago, it cost $25,000 per patient. Now it’s $6,500 and expected to continue declining.

Dr. Bick came to Alabama a year ago from the Medical College of Wisconsin where he was professor in the department of pediatrics and the department of obstetrics and gynecology. He has an extensive background in genomics. The goal of testing is to help people get the information they need in order to take care of their health.

“At the Smith Family Clinic for Genomic medicine, we try very hard to help families and individuals get to the right place for the care they need,” he said. “From our perspective, we want to make sure people get the information they need.  If that involves genetic testing we can quickly see them in our clinic.”