Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, February 27, 2009

Get your genome sequenced for a hundred bucks

Technology Review - March/April 2009, by Lauren Gravitz

Han Cao's nanofluidic chip could cut DNA sequencing costs dramatically.

In the corner of the small lab is a locked door with a colorful sign taped to the front: "$100 Genome Room--Authorized Persons Only." BioNanomatrix, the startup that runs the lab, is pursuing what many believe to be the key to personalized medicine: sequencing technology so fast and cheap that an entire human genome can be read in eight hours for $100 or less. With the aid of such a powerful tool, medical treatment could be tailored to a patient's distinct genetic profile.

Despite many experts' doubt that whole-genome sequencing could be done for $1,000, let alone a 10th that much, BioNanomatrix believes it can reach the $100 target in five years. The reason for its optimism: company founder Han Cao has created a chip that uses nanofluidics and a series of branching, ever-narrowin­g channels to allow researchers, for the first time, to isolate and image very long strands of individual DNA molecules.

If the company succeeds, a physician could biopsy a cancer patient's tumor, sequence all its DNA, and use that information to determine a prognosis and prescribe treatment-- all for less than the cost of a chest x-ray. If the ailment is lung cancer, for instance, the doctor could determine the particular genetic changes in the tumor cells and order the chemo­therapy best suited to that variant.

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