Children's Hospital Boston recently announced a $25,000 competition for the development of an interpretation and communication system that can deliver genomic information from the lab to physicians and patients. As the cost of genome sequencing continues to fall and may break the $1,000 barrier soon, the issue is no longer about acquiring genetic data but about what all the data means. Scientists around the world have been making progress interpreting the molecular language of DNA but, as the Human Genome Project revealed, the human genome contains at least 25,000 genes, so research can be slow going. Furthermore, what information is obtained and published in journals has a hard time finding its way into practices for physicians to understand and apply toward patient care.
At the heart of the challenge is a rather simple question: can genomic information be analyzed effectively and presented to a doctor in a way that helps the patient?
While the hospital could have just tossed more money at genetic research to promote advances, it's chosen to host a competition to drive innovation. The CLARITY Challenge, which stands for the Children’s Leadership Award for the Reliable Interpretation and appropriate Transmission of Your genomic information, directs research groups and companies to focus on major bottlenecks in genomic medicine. Competitors will receive raw DNA sequence data from three de-identified children with confirmed, unknown genetic diseases and their families. The challenge is to develop a system to root out the underlying genetic basis for the disease and communicate that information in a way that guides physicians in caring for their patients.
The winner is scheduled to be announced in October.
Frankly, in the healthcare world, $25,000 is really not that much money, considering that research grants frequently are in the millions of dollars. But the prize that awaits the group that wins the CLARITY Challenge is what every researcher on the frontier of medicine can claim and reap the rewards from: being first. For something this significant in genomic medicine, odds are that whoever claims the prize will be winning for years to come.