Obama Proposes Analyzing The DNA Of One Million Americans, Promises Privacy ‘From Day One’

Friday, President Obama announced a United States proposal to analyze the DNA of more than one million Americans. The federal government’s proposal for analyzing the genetic make-up of Americans is part of a new Precision Medicine Initiative that aims to better understand diseases and to develop specifically targeted medicines based on Americans’ individual DNA.

President Obama explained that the government hopes to gather DNA samples from over a million Americans including healthy and sick individuals of every age to improve the health of all Americans.

“Precision medicine gives us one of the greatest opportunities for new medical breakthroughs we’ve ever seen, lay a foundation for a new era of life-saving discoveries.”

According to Reuters, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said that the long term goal of the DNA project would be to “provide information on how to individualize treatment for a range of diseases.” Initially though, the DNA samples would be used to better understand and treat cancer.

President Obama hopes to earmark 215 million dollars in the 2016 budget for the DNA and medicine initiate. President Obama explained that 130 million dollars would be sent to the National Institute of Health to fund research, and 70 million would go to the National Cancer Institute in order to zoom in on the genetics of cancer and what drives it. Part of that 70 million would also help create new drugs based on the discoveries made from the analysis of Americans’ DNA. Ten million dollars would be handed over to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration so that the agency can develop databases and five million would be given to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in order to help ensure the privacy of the Americans involved in the DNA research. According to the White House, the investment is worth it.

“The effort may raise alarm bells for privacy rights advocates who have questioned the government’s ability to guarantee that DNA information is kept anonymous,” according to the report from Reuters, which said that President Obama promised Americans that “privacy will be built in from day one.”

Social media posts confirm the prediction made by Reuters.

Collins said that the genome sequencing of one million Americans alone would end up costing around one billion dollars, so some of the DNA involved in the national cohort will include preexisting cohorts, like the Million Veteran Program, which has already enrolled over 300,000 American veterans. These genotypes will be linked to the veterans’ medical histories thanks to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ electronic health records, Reuters reported.

At the end of last year, as Inquisitr reported, Autism Speaks launched MSSNG, a human genome sequencing project, in order to learn from the DNA of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Genome information analyzed through MSSNG, hosted on Google’s cloud, could provide additional genetic information for the plan President Obama proposed.

At the end of 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that DNA samples would soon be taken from healthy newborn babies at some select American hospitals as part of government-funded human genome research. DNA obtained through that research could also be added to the cohort proposed by Obama.

Craig Venter of Human Longevity Inc, which plans to make privately funded genome sequencing available to pharmaceutical companies, said that his company would be happy to work with the feds on the science of the project Obama proposed, but added that it would be naive for President Obama’s administration to assume that existing cohorts would just merge into the DNA project Obama presented Friday. Venter cited health privacy regulations and explained that it would be complicated to merge public and private genome databases, according to News Daily.

Recently, Inquisitr reported that the DNA analysis company 23andMe also made plans with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies interested in using the information gathered from American customers’ DNA for product development and research after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration forced the company to stop providing its customers with health related information based on their individual DNA.

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