Geneticist Elizabeth Worthey worked on the first-ever treatment of a patient based on DNA sequencing, helping doctors decide to give a bone marrow transplant to a 6-year-old boy who had suffered through more than a hundred operations. Now Worthey, an assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, is part of a team working to comb through the sequences of five more children.
Every Friday, she and her colleagues at Wisconsin Children’s Hospital meet to go over cases that other doctors have put forward for DNA sequencing. There have been about three dozen requests. An insurance company has even agreed to pay for one of the cases, although the money is not yet in the bank and the hospital will not disclose either the insurer or details about the patient. This is the first time that an insurer is known to have agreed to pay for the sequencing of an entire human genome!
“For some of these kids there is no alternative,” Worthey says, “You either guess, you do nothing, or you do something — in this case, sequence their genome.”