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Fast DNA Sequencing Lets Doctors Know If Newborns Will Need Intensive Care

Fast DNA sequencing is allowing doctors to figure out what's wrong with unwell newborn babies faster than ever before.

When we are unwell or something's not quite right, we can take a trip to the doctor's and hopefully, get whatever is wrong treated and fixed. We have the benefit of being able to point at where the problem is or describe what hurts, and most of the time, medical professionals can deduce what the problem is. When it comes to newborn babies, it's not that simple.

Our little ones are unable to describe what hurts or what doesn't feel right. That means doctors are left to try and figure out what's wrong with very little to go on a lot of the time. It can often result in newborn babies having to stay in neonatal intensive care units for far longer than they really need to as people try to figure out what's wrong and how to fix it.

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via Rady Children's Institute for Genomic Medicine

That may soon become a thing of the past, reports NPR. Doctors at Rady's Children's Hospital in San Diego have been using machines that sequence and analyze newborn genomes incredibly quickly. The sequencing is being used to test whether certain genes are causing illnesses and issues that might otherwise take months to diagnose.

The hospital boasts three $1 million machines and they sound as if they're worth every penny. DNA from a newborn or its parents can be put into the machine in the afternoon and it will have returned a complete genome sequencing by late morning the following day. Doctors can then pour over the data in an attempt to matchup and discover what might be causing something such as seizures in a newborn.

Even though the positives of this method are plain to see, medical insurance companies are still wary of it. What needs to be laid out at this point is how much this sequencing can save on the money side of things. One sequencing costs about the same as it would cost to keep a baby in the NICU for a day, so pretty expensive. However, that sequencing could result in a baby being released from the NICU months earlier than they would have been otherwise.

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