Chinese scientists have announced the completion of the first gene sequencing system to be developed and patented entirely in the country.
Its future application will help the nation to improve public health and combat diseases in a more targeted way.
The system, announced on Aug 7 and named BIGIS, combines a mechanical device and a reagent jointly developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Jilin Zixin Pharmaceutical Industrial Co. It is expected to hit the Chinese market on a large scale by early next year.
Currently, gene sequencing is making its way into medical clinical laboratories in China that specialize in hereditary disorders, infectious diseases and therapeutic decision-making for some cancers.
But it has relied on imported tools, according to Yu Jun, who heads genomics and bioinformatics research at the academy’s Beijing Genomics Institute.
“The future wide use of BIGIS will lower the cost of gene sequencing technology and thereby facilitate China’s initiative in precision medicine,” he said at the launch on Friday.
According to Ren Lufeng, research head of Zixin, the whole genome sequencing process using BIGIS costs around 1,000 yuan ($161) per person, far lower than the current price.
Yu Jun said that price would prompt more clinical applications to benefit disease control and prevention in China.
“An immense databank enabled by affordable gene sequencing technology will pave the way for China’s precision medicine plan,” he said.
Precision medicine is a new approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into consideration individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle, according to Ren.
Significant advances in precision medicine have been made for select cancers, though it is not yet in use for most diseases. Many countries worldwide are working to make it the norm rather than the exception, he said.
Qin Huaijin, the science, technology and education chief of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said the commission and the Ministry of Science and Technology were researching China’s precision medicine plan.
“It is a huge and complex system combining big data and personalized medicine. It is definitely the future trend of medicine,” he said.
China is burdened with diseases such as cardiovascular conditions and cancer, and precision medicine raises hopes for better treatment outcomes for patients and improved efficiency in diagnosis, treatment and prevention for the country as a whole, said Yu.
But he cautioned the public about products featuring gene sequencing to forecast a person’s risk of getting certain diseases, such as cancer. “Disease onset is a complex process, and the gene-related factor could be just one factor among many,” he said.
Also, China currently lacks a sufficient number of medical specialists “who can decode the gene sequencing data and use it to make practical health-related suggestions”, he added.