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Whole genome sequencing could save $30 billion by preventing one third of neonatal ICU visits

Nearly 13% of all babies in the U.S. are preemies, a 20% increase since 1990. A 2006 report by the National Academy of Sciences found that the 550,000 preemies born each year in the U.S. run up about $26 billion in annual costs, mostly related to care in NICUs.

That represents about half of all the money hospitals spend on newborns. But the number, large as it is, may understate the bill. Norman J. Waitzman, a professor of economics at the University of Utah who worked on the National Academy report, says the study considered just the first five years of the preemies' lives. Factor in the cost of treating all of the possible lifelong disabilities and the years of lost productivity for the caregivers, and the real tab may top $50 billion. These were estimates using 2005 data. Current costs are two times or more greater.

Since one hospital's pilot project began, in November 2011, doctors have correctly diagnosed 18 out of 36 mysteriously sick babies-most of whom would have otherwise waited months for a diagnosis, if they survived that long.

Even Kingsmore has been shocked by how fruitful the sequencing efforts have proved to be. "Never did we expect what we're finding-that the majority of the kids we're testing would yield a diagnosis. That's crazy," he says, especially considering that scientists still don't understand much of the human genome. Including children that weren't part of the pilot project, he says, "We have dozens and dozens of stories of kids whose lives have been saved or transformed, their families given hope, because of this inexpensive genetic test."

About 800 critically ill newborns are admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Mercy Hospital each year.

 Read more via NextBigFuture.com