An advancement of genome analysis could detect diseases more quickly

An advancement of genome analysis could detect diseases more quickly

Diseases caused by genetic changes could be detected more readily thanks to an advance in DNA genome analysis software.

The development of the genome analysis will make it easier to integrate genetic testing into health care systems such as the UK’s National Health Service, which cares for around three million people affected by genetic diseases in the UK.

What can the new tool do?

Published in Nature Communications and funded by Wellcome and the European Union, the research was led by teams at the University of Edinburgh and the European Bioinformatics Institute at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL-EBI).

The new tool can spot precise genetic changes that cause disease in more than three billion letters of DNA code that make up the human genome.

This is done by linking to a database of clinical information from individuals with genetic diseases to pinpoint DNA changes that are known to cause illness.

The genome analysis software also predicts the consequences of DNA changes, helping to identify disease-causing differences that are not already linked to a known condition.
In addition, the software scans databases of genetic information from healthy individuals to rule out DNA differences that look as though they may cause a disease but are harmless -minimising the risk of false diagnoses.

Decoding an individual’s genome

Experts say the system is particularly useful for diagnosing disorders that may be caused by many different genes, such as severe intellectual disabilities in children.

Using genetics to diagnose diseases moved a step closer when advances in DNA sequencing technology made it affordable and possible to decode a person’s genome within a few days.

Professor David FitzPatrick, of the Medical Research Council Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We have developed this software to help improve access to safe, speedy and accurate diagnosis of serious genetic disease throughout the world.”

The new system, which is freely available online, will make it easier to diagnose genetic conditions in clinical practice and in research programmes.

Anja Thormann, an Ensembl developer at the European Bioinformatics Institute, said: “This development means researchers don’t have to go through, for example, 300 variants to identify which are relevant for that specific patient. This pipeline means they may only need to look at three or four variants.”

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