UNITED KINGDOM —Genomics England is to sequence the genomes of 100,000 babies at birth starting in 2023, as part of a genomics project to improve the diagnosis and treatment of rare genetic conditions.

This decision succeeds a New York Project featuring Columbia University’s geneticist Wendy Chung launched in September to sequence DNA from 100,000 newborns for numerous treatable diseases over four years.

The Newborn Genomes Program will screen for around 200 treatable disorders in 100,000 babies over the next two years to assess the technology’s feasibility and effectiveness, including whether it could save the NHS money by preventing serious illness.

It will also explore how researchers might access an anonymized version of this database to study people as they grow older and whether a person’s genome might be used throughout their lives to inform future healthcare decisions.

For example, if someone develops cancer later in life, it may be possible to use their stored genetic information to help diagnose and treat them.

This is the first time that whole genome sequencing (WGS) has been offered for healthy babies in the UK.

Their sequences will be stored, meaning they could allow for further tests to identify or predict future illnesses throughout their lifetimes.

The UK program is led by Genomics England, who in 2014 sequenced 100,000 genomes from an estimated 85,000 National Health Service (NHS) patients affected by rare diseases or cancer. Genomics England is owned by the U.K. Department of Health and Social Care.

This announcement comes as part of a £175 million (US$213.5 million) investment to boost genomics technology announced by health and social care secretary Steve Barclay and it is believed to be the largest project of its kind anywhere in the world.

Of this, £105m (US$128 million) will go to the Newborn Genomes Program, £26 million (US$31.7 million) to support a program using genomics to improve cancer diagnosis, and £22 million (US$26.7 million) towards a new program aiming to sequence the genomes of 25,000 people of non-European ancestry.

Currently, a heel prick blood test offered to newborns screens for nine rare conditions, including cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease, but each year, thousands of babies are born with rare genetic disorders that are not picked up by the blood spot test.

These disorders are often difficult to diagnose and be devastating, with one-third of children with a rare disease dying before their fifth birthday, according to Queen Mary University of London.

Commenting on the announcement, Mr. Barclay said: “The potential for genomics to revolutionize the way we deliver health care is great – if we can detect treatable illnesses earlier and ensure patients access potentially lifesaving treatment faster, we could improve people’s lives across the county, including thousands of babies through this new pilot.”

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