Research Maps Out Newborns Genetic Future

There may be a future for infants that is determined by their genetic blueprint. Scientists at Virginia's Inova Fairfax Hospital are participating in the first study of its kind exploring and mapping the genetic code of newborns.

"Genomics really is about determining what variance we have in our genome that are unique to us as individuals and that might predict risk of disease," said CEO for Inova Translational Medicine Institute John Niederhuber, who is overseeing the study.

The research is in the experimental stage, but parents may one day use this information to plan ahead, says Niederbuber.

"If I know I have a risk for certain heart disease, I might manage my life with a little better diet, a little better nutrition than I currently do," Niederbuber said.

However, parents may be hesitant to find out if their child is more susceptible to heart disease or cancer in the future.

"If we do detect it early, how do you communicate that to the parents, what's the responsibility?" said Natasha Bonhomme, Vice President of Strategic Development for Genetic Alliance and Director of Baby's First Test.

Only actionable results from the study will be shared with the patients' physicians, who will then advise the families on proper steps to take. But the question of what's "actionable" forms the heart of the debate.

"We know where the technology is going, we want to find out more information and find it out faster," Bonhomme said. "But really, to have that, to put that into the context of, 'what should we be giving back to families and to patients?'"

Parents like Holly Sloan, a registered nurse who helps with labor and delivery at Fairfax Hospital and mother of a five-month-old baby, would prefer to have the information either way, worrisome or not.

"Even if it's something that I didn't want to hear, I'd rather know, so I can take steps to try to correct any health problems," Sloan said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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