Rethinking Healthcare

The $50,000 genetic map

Posting in Science

From a diagnostic standpoint, it could soon become standard procedure for a doctor stumped based on symptoms to seek a genetic scan and a cause for what ails you. The answer won't just determine the cost of care, but might tell if you need to have a hard talk with your kids about their future.

One of the great things about following Moore's Law over my career is watching how things get better and better faster and faster.

Once computers can do something, improvements are rapid. What was a $10,000 big screen TV becomes a $1,000 model, and the less-expensive one is actually better.

The same thing is now happening with gene sequencing. The latest advance: a complete human genome sequenced for about $48,000.

Best of all (from a tech reporter perspective) this was really kind of a publicity stunt, on behalf of Helicos Biosciences, which made the gear that was used. (There it is to the right. It's called a Heliscope. Cute name.)

The genes sequenced were those of Helicos founder Stephen Quake, a bioengineering professor at Stanford. (Go Cardinal -- the color, not the bird.)

To make that price real to you, the first gene sequencing was done in 2003 for $500,000. Last year a genome was sequenced for just $250,000. Now you're under $50,000, and that includes the labor of the three-person team that did the work.

What does this mean? To Quake, it means that hospitals and even clinics will soon be able to decode your full genome. Notice how fast MRI scanning is growing? That's a $2 million machine. Imagine how fast this might grow.

From a diagnostic standpoint, it could soon become standard procedure for a doctor stumped based on symptoms to seek a genetic scan and a cause for what ails you. The answer won't just determine the cost of care, but might tell if you need to have a hard talk with your kids about their future.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure