The UK is set to begin sequencing the genomes of 100,000 newborn babies later this year. It will be the largest study of its kind, mapping the babies’ complete set of genetic instructions, with potentially profound implications for child medicine.
The £105 million ($126 million) Newborn Genomes Programme will screen for around 200 rare but treatable genetic conditions, with the aim of curtailing untold pain and anxiety for babies and their families, who sometimes struggle to receive a diagnosis through conventional testing. By accelerating the diagnostic process, earlier treatment of infants could prevent many severe conditions from ever developing.
The study would see roughly one in 12 newborn babies in England screened on a voluntary basis over two years. It will operate as an extension of current newborn testing, with the findings intended to inform policymakers, who could pave the way for sequencing to become more commonplace.
Nevertheless, the project has raised many longstanding ethical questions around genetics, consent, data privacy, and priorities within infant healthcare.