Oct. 4 (UPI) -- By creating a DNA tool to accurately predict people's height, researchers see hope for assessing risk for serious illnesses.
Michigan State University scientists developed an algorithm based on one genome that includes predictors for human traits such as height, bone density and even the level of education. The findings were published this week in the journal Genetics.
"While we have validated this tool for these three outcomes, we can now apply this method to predict other complex traits related to health risks such as heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer," lead investigator Dr. Stephen Hsu, vice president for research and graduate studies at MSU, said in a press release.
With precision medicine, physicians can more quickly and accurately provide patient care, including preventing or delaying illness, the researchers said.
Utilizing machine learning, they analyzed the complete genetic makeup of nearly 500,000 adults in the United Kingdom from the UK Biobank.
The computer accurately predicted everyone's height within roughly an inch. Bone density and educational attainment were not as precise, but they were accurate enough to identify outlying individuals at risk of low bone density associated with osteoporosis or struggling in school, the researchers said.
With traditional genetic testing, specific changes in a person's genes or chromosomes can indicate a higher risk for diseases such as breast cancer. The MSU researcher's method considers numerous genomic differences and builds a predictor based on the tens of thousands of variations.
"The algorithm looks at the genetic makeup and height of each person," Hsu said. "The computer learns from each person and ultimately produces a predictor that can determine how tall they are from their genome alone."
The researchers plan to improve the algorithms and tap into larger, more diverse data sets.
Their work has benefited from additional computing power and decreasing DNA sequencing costs over the past few years.
"Our team believes this is the future of medicine," he said. "For the patient, a genomic test can be as simple as a cheek swab, with a cost of about $50. Once we calculate the predictors for genetically based diseases, early intervention can save billions of dollars in treatment costs, and more importantly, save lives."