In 2003, the international consortium of scientists working on the Human Genome Project completed the final first draft for the human genome - a DNA blueprint for human life. This monumental achievement involved thousands of dedicated people, took more than a decade, and cost over $2.5 billion (£1.95bn). The public availability of a completed human DNA map ushered in the genomics era, giving rise to personalised, or precision, medicine.
Now, 15 years later, major advances in DNA- sequencing technology and its commercial development have driven down the time and cost of sequencing a human genome. In 2018, we will at last start to understand the commercial, clinical, regulatory, ethical and legal issues unlocked by the Human Genome Project.
Today, a fully analysed whole-genome-sequencing test costs about $600 and takes just a few weeks to complete. This next-generation technology is changing the way doctors manage patients with rare inherited diseases and cancer. In 2018, DNA sequencing will continue to improve, with new applications such as screening for disease in newborns.
But, as is common with other disruptive technologies, our advances in genomics have outpaced the ethical and legal frameworks we need to responsibly and sustainably deploy them. In 2018 we will need to find ways to provide better assurances of patient safety and practical protections against losses of privacy. Patients and physicians alike must also be presented with a realistic approach to expectations, so that public trust in this transformative technology grows. It will require co-operation on a scale that does not yet exist.