Learning to Use Genomics Safely, to Improve Children's Health

Newborn screening is one of the nation's most successful public health programs, each year sparing thousands of American infants from a lifetime of severe disability or premature death. Using a few drops of blood from an infant's heel, state newborn screening programs test for a few dozen debilitating disorders that may be present at birth and which can cause significant problems unless there is early diagnosis and intervention.

Now, more than 50 years after the advent of newborn screening, a newer, much more powerful tool for detecting hidden genetic risks for a much longer list of conditions may soon be available for routine use -- genome sequencing.

If used appropriately, genome sequencing holds great promise for improving health in childhood and beyond. It could give us new insights into health and disease, even helping unravel the relationships between biological and environmental influences. And it could empower people to take active steps to prevent health problems for which they are at particular risk.

But that prospect raises important questions…

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Originally posted: September 29, 2014