Ex­perts say na­tional gene bank could lower health­care costs

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - China - By YANG WANLI

Most ex­pec­tant moth­ers dis­cover po­ten­tial prob­lems with the fe­tus through screen­ings, whose ac­cu­racy ranges from 80 to 99 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Zhu Haiyan, direc­tor of the Pre­na­tal Di­ag­nos­tic Cen­ter at the PLA Navy Gen­eral Hospi­tal in Bei­jing.

In the United States, non­in­va­sive pre­na­tal test­ing, or NIPT, is usu­ally con­ducted after the 10th week of preg­nancy.

In China, how­ever, guide­lines is­sued by the Na­tional Health Com­mis­sion rec­om­mend con­duct­ing the test be­tween the 12th and 20th weeks to guar­an­tee the blood sam­ples con­tain an ad­e­quate amount of DNA, she said.

Yu Jun, for­mer deputy head of the Bei­jing In­sti­tute of Ge­nomics at the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ences, said NIPT is not only used to de­tect chro­mo­so­mal anom­alies but can also rec­og­nize the DNA sig­na­tures of thou­sands of ge­netic ill­nesses.

Deaf­ness and Down syn­drome, the two most com­mon chro­mo­so­mal dis­or­ders among Chi­nese new­borns, are screened via ge­netic test­ing.

“The higher the num­ber of ge­netic sig­na­tures screened, the higher the cost of the test. How­ever, new tech­nolo­gies and tech­ni­cal ad­vances should lower costs in the fu­ture,” he said.

“Sev­eral hun­dred ge­netic tests are in use, and more are be­ing de­vel­oped. Fu­ture tests will look for mu­ta­tions re­lated to dis­ease risks be­yond rare ge­netic dis­or­ders — that is, com­mon ill­nesses such as cancers, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, di­a­betes and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases.”

In the past decade, gene tech­nol­ogy has ad­vanced rapidly in China, with many com­pa­nies de­vel­op­ing gene­se­quenc­ing equip­ment and a num­ber of larger out­fits build­ing their own gene banks.

Berry Ge­nomics be­gan of­fer­ing ge­nomic se­quenc­ing ser­vices for ge­netic dis­eases in 2010.

The com­pany has also been build­ing a gene data pool since 2015, and now has the de­tails of more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple in China, ac­cord­ing to CEO Zhou Daix­ing.

Un­der strict pri­vacy pro­tec­tion, the data is only used for sci­en­tific stud­ies and clin­i­cal re­search.

“As pre­ci­sion medicine has been pro­moted glob­ally in re­cent years, gene test­ing will play a key role in both the devel­op­ment of new drugs and the for­mu­la­tion of per­son­al­ized med­i­cal treat­ment plans,” he said.

He added that the fre­quency of ge­netic mu­ta­tion varies among dif­fer­ent racial groups, and some West­ern coun­tries that have stud­ied their ge­netic com­po­si­tion for decades al­ready have na­tional databases.

“Build­ing our own Chi­nese gene bank would be help­ful,” Zhou said.

Based on cur­rent data anal­y­sis, he said that the com­pany has al­ready dis­cov­ered the fre­quency of a num­ber of ge­netic mu­ta­tions preva­lent in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try.

“If fu­ture health­care poli­cies, such as screen­ing plans, can be de­vised ac­cord­ing to those dif­fer­ences, we could re­duce the health­care bud­get, and sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove the ef­fi­ciency of screen­ing,” he said.

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