Genome Banking: Challenges

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A dead body was found by the local police near a lake in a city in the United Kingdom. According to an autopsy report, the body was approximately an old man of 60-70 years of age who died of a heart attack. Nobody came to claim the body for days.

Disclaimer- The characters and scenes of this story are hypothetical.

The city had a genome bank: a bank that had a collection of genome sequences and maps of many persons who voluntarily deposited their gene sequences to be used as a treatment modality if they suffered from any cancer or genetic diseases in the future. The added advantage of this bank was it usually had sequences of complete families, so it could be used as a search option for missing persons. 

Police thought to inquire about the dead body’s relatives using the data from the genome bank. Through proper channels and legal documents, police got permission to run the person’s DNA against the bank’s genome database. 

Bingo! a match was found. Luckily the man’s family had deposited their genome sequences. Imagine what more happened, the man’s genome sequence revealed he had Alzheimer’s disease and hailed from another city. Due to his dementia, he might have left home and forgotten to return and ended with a heart attack. His family had filed a missing complaint in their city, unaware the man had travelled to another town and died.

A ‘genome bank’ collects and stores biological data such as the genome, protein and RNA sequences, and biomaterials like sperm cells, oocytes, and pluripotent stem cells. People can deposit and retrieve their biological belongings in such types of banks. 

Surprised! Yes, there are such types of banks also.

They could revolutionize modern medicine. It can be used to customize drug therapy for rare genetic diseases and provide the gift of a child to childless parents. 

Also, the information can be used to apprehend regular offenders and find the missing persons using the deposited gene sequences. Few countries have a national DNA data bank with gene sequences of habitual crime offenders. They are not used for the study and research of medicine.

But why are these kinds of banks not so popular and mostly unheard of. It is because of some of the constraints that make the development of such banks challenging.

How Will My Data Be Stored?

The amazing fact about the genome sequences is that it is stored as bytes, just as the computer data. A single human genome is approximately 100 GB. So imagine the space needed to store the millions of genome sequences of a constantly increasing population. A bank is expected to have a large storage capacity, and if it’s a genome bank, then the storage capacity usually exceeds beyond easy calculation.

Is My Data Safe And Confidential?

This is, again, challenging. Because the biological information is most personal and hence priceless. We must be convinced that our data is secured before depositing. 

The next question is, who can retrieve the data? Is there any pin or password to secure it?

A highly encrypted security system is required to ensure such kind of data. 

Again such tight security can be a roadblock to research. Big pharma and life science companies would not get access to these data making the deposition of genomes useless. The aim is not just to collect the data but to use them for technology development and the invention of drug therapies for incurable diseases. 

A proper and legal draft is required to deposit, retrieve, and share the data with the third party. 

If acknowledged by the researchers, therapists, and lawmakers, all these challenges can be overcome and lead to a solid foundation on which the genome banks will stand firmly, giving rise to a new era of personalised medicine.

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