The UK's Human Genetics Commission (HGC) has considered the issues surrounding the testing and storing of DNA samples from all newborn babies, at a meeting held in Bristol last week. The event was a follow-up to a government commitment to look at genetic profiling of newborns, made in the White Paper on genetics last summer. Members of the HGC heard from scientists running the ongoing 'Children of the Nineties' project, which is studying the effect of genes and environment on the health of thousands of children living in the Bristol area.
Officially known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), the Children of the Nineties project enrolled 14,000 pregnant women and newborn babies during 1991 and 1992. The parents filled out questionnaires detailing the mother's pregnancy, as well as their health, lifestyle and family history. The Wellcome Trust has recently given £3 million to the project, to fund the collection of DNA from 25,000 of the participating parents and children.
Jean Golding, head of ALSPAC, said that the benefits of collecting genetic information about every newborn baby could be 'enormous', provided the proper safeguards were in place. She cautioned that 'the idea of collecting DNA from every child as they are born needs to be thought through carefully to make sure that the information can't be misused'. But if future doctors had access to a person's genetic profile, then it could help them reduce the risk of 'heart attack, diabetes, or any other genetically related illness', she said. 'This isn't science fiction any more. This is very exciting medical research which will start to pay off in the lifetime of today's children'.
Meanwhile, US scientists have announced plans for the National Children's Study, another project aiming to look at the effects of environmental effects and genetics on children's health. The government-funded project will follow 100,000 children from birth to the age of 21, and should begin in 2006.