Stories about: CLARITY

How whole-genome sequencing solved my son’s genetic mystery

Titin gene centronuclear myopathy

A longer version of this article was published in the journal Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics as part of a special issue on patients’ experiences with genetic testing.

“Negative.” “Normal.” “Fails to confirm the diagnosis of . . .” “Etiology of the patient’s disease phenotype remains unknown.”

These are words I heard repeatedly in the first 11 years of my son’s life. Even as new genes for my son’s rare muscle disorder were discovered around the world, negative or “normal” genetic test results were reported back to us 13 times.

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Interpreting genomes in undiagnosed patients: Our CLARITY Challenge experience

CLARITY Undiagnosed challenge winner Peter WhitePeter White, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Biomedical Genomics Core at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, led the winning team in CLARITY Undiagnosed, an international challenge that interpreted genomic data from five families with undiagnosed conditions. The team also took part in CLARITY’s first challenge in 2012, receiving special mention. Here, White describes the team’s approach to these “toughest of the tough” patients.

The CLARITY Undiagnosed challenge was markedly harder than the first CLARITY challenge. This time around, we were given whole-genome sequence datasets for five families and asked to produce clinically useful results through improved interpretation and reporting. It turned out to be a fantastic learning experience for all of us, and we will be using the collaborative approach we developed to solve genomics challenges in our own patients.

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Two big wins for rare disease

Two new developments offer glimmers of hope to patients with rare, hard-to-diagnose conditions—validation of the power of crowd sourcing and the prospect of bringing cognitive computing to rare disease diagnosis. Both developments were announced at the Boston Children’s Hospital Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards (#PedInno15).

The crowd-sourcing challenge, CLARITY Undiagnosed, yesterday announced the findings of 21 teams that competed from seven countries. The winning team, Nationwide Children’s Hospital (Columbus, OH), was awarded $25,000. Invitae Corporation (San Francisco) and Wuxi NextCODE Genomics (Cambridge, MA) were named runners-up.

Each team received DNA sequences and clinical data from five families whose illnesses had eluded many prior diagnostic attempts—in some cases, even prior genomic sequencing.

“These were the toughest of the tough,” says Alan Beggs, PhD, co-organizer of CLARITY Undiagnosed and director of the Manton Center for Orphan Disease Research at Boston Children’s.

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Undiagnosed families hold on as genome competitors look for explanations

undiagnosed patients await answersThe CLARITY Undiagnosed Challenge is heating up. Biomedical teams from seven countries are racing to interpret DNA sequences from five families affected with undiagnosed illnesses—some with gravely ill children, some already bereaved, all desperate for answers.

In July, the 26 competing teams received whole-genome and whole-exome sequence data from each patient and close family members, along with clinical notes and patient videos. Their reports, due September 21, will be judged by an independent panel based on:

  • the methods used to analyze and interpret the sequence data
  • the ability to synthesize the information
  • clinical usefulness, care recommendations and “next steps.”

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Bringing CLARITY to families with undiagnosed disease

sick child-Shutterstock-croppedIn the U.S. alone, an estimated 30 million Americans suffer from a rare disorder. Many of them never receive a diagnosis, and often find themselves on a lonely journey, going from doctor to doctor and test to test, sometimes for many years, with no explanation for their symptoms.

How many people fall in the “undiagnosed” category is unclear, but in its first six years, the NIH’s Undiagnosed Diseases Program has received more than 10,000 inquiries. Without a diagnosis, it’s often difficult to qualify for insurance coverage, receive coordinated care or even connect with a support group.

What if the work of solving these medical mysteries could be crowd-sourced? That’s the goal of CLARITY Undiagnosed, an international challenge launching today in which scientific teams can compete to provide answers for five families with undiagnosed conditions. (Deadline for applications: June 11).

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Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: a case of potential harm

direct-to-consumer genetic testingLast November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a “cease and desist” order to 23andMe, a major purveyor of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing. In its letter to the company—issued after three prior warnings—the FDA reiterated its view that 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service (PGS) constitutes a medical device requiring further premarket evaluation:

FDA is concerned about the public health consequences of inaccurate results from the PGS device…we still do not have any assurance that the firm has analytically or clinically validated the PGS for its intended uses.

The FDA’s order, based on potential rather than actual medical harm, has generated a great deal of controversy. In a recent critique published in Nature, Robert Green, MD, MPH, of the Partners HealthCare Center for Personalized Genetic Medicine, and Nita Farahany, PhD, JD, of the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, argued against regulating DTC genomic interpretation services as medical devices:

… doing so could put FDA regulations in greater tension with the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects the rights of individuals to receive information, and of ‘commercial speech’ ….the agency should avoid restricting consumer genomic testing unless faced with empirical evidence of harm.

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The challenge of cancer genomics: Embarking on CLARITY 2

cancer genomicsIn 2012, Boston Children’s Hospital held the international CLARITY Challenge—an invitation to interpret genomic sequence data from three children with rare diseases and provide a meaningful, actionable report for clinicians and families. (Click for more background on the children, findings and winners.)

The full proceedings, published March 25 in Genome Biology, concluded that while the technical approaches were markedly similar from center to center, the costs, efficiency and scalability were not. Most variable, and most in need of future work, was the quality of the clinical reporting and patient consenting process. The exercise also underscored the need for medical expertise to bring meaning to the genomic data.

That was CLARITY 1. CLARITY 2, focusing on cancer genomics in children, promises to be exponentially more complex.

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Using DNA sequencing in medicine: The world starts to figure out how

It’s been more than a decade since the Human Genome Project cracked our genetic code. DNA sequencing is getting cheaper and cheaper. So why isn’t it being used every day in medicine?

The truth is that while we have the technology to blow apart a patient’s DNA and piece it back together, letter by letter, and compare it with normal “reference” DNA, doctors don’t really know what to do with this information. How much of it is really relevant or useful? Should they be giving it back to patients and their families, and how?

Handled badly, the information could do more harm than good. “We don’t want to scare patients for no reason, or for the wrong reason,” says Isaac Kohane, MD, PhD, who chairs the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program.

Seeking a set of best practices for safe, clinically useful genomic sequencing, Boston Children’s Hospital took a crowd-sourcing approach.

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Three families, three mysteries: Results soon to come from genomic challenge

Liam Burns died 12 days after birth from an unexplained set of heart defects. His parents hope the CLARITY challenge will provide a meaningful explanation.

One extended family has a range of unexplained heart defects—sometimes a hole in the heart, sometimes an arrhythmia. One child, Liam Burns, died days after birth from an underdeveloped heart, a narrowed artery to the lungs and an electrical block. Yet other family members have little more than a heart murmur. All of the defects are on the right side of the heart.

Another family’s son, 11-year-old AJ Foye, has unexplained muscle weakness and fatigue. He can walk only short distances and needs a ventilator at night to support his breathing.

These families—and a third that chose to remain anonymous—decided to submit their DNA to a challenge sponsored by Boston Children’s Hospital called CLARITY. Not only have their complete genomes been sequenced, but 30 teams all over the world—from biotech startups to the National Institutes of Health—were given access to the sequences and set loose to come up with “best practices” for interpreting the results. Two dozen turned in submissions, now being evaluated by a panel of judges.

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Whole-genome sequencing in medicine: New knowledge, new responsibilities

(Karl-Ludwig Poggemann/Wikimedia Commons)

Recently, in the hospital cafeteria, I overheard a group of researchers discussing the upcoming availability of whole-genome sequencing to physicians. “We should devise a way to study how physicians will use this,” said one of them—underscoring the disruptive nature of the transformation that is currently happening in medicine.

The ability to immediately obtain whole-genome sequences from patients holds enormous potential for understanding and treating human disease. The list of studies reporting successful diagnosis of otherwise elusive orphan conditions is already too long to recount—more than 600 articles in PubMed as of the date of this posting—including poignant examples of advancing clinical care.

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