South-seq: Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Sequencing for Newborn Nurseries in the South

  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    University of Alabama at Birmingham
Updated on 28 January 2023
Accepts healthy volunteers


2,000 infants with signs suggestive of a genetic disorder being treated at a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in which African-American and rural populations are highly represented will be enrolled. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) will be used to identify pathogenic variation in DNA from these infants. Stakeholders, including parents, clinicians, and community leaders, will be engaged to develop culturally adapted educational materials and to equip non-genetics providers to return WGS results. Parents will be provided with these materials through a web portal, the Genome Gateway, and will be placed into one of two arms of a randomized trial to compare the effectiveness technology-assisted WGS result delivery by non-genetics providers relative to result delivery from genetic counselors.


Barriers to widespread and routine implementation of WGS-enabled clinical care exist at several levels. Surveys of clinicians indicate discomfort in their understanding of genomics and ability to communicate results to patients, and also concern about the time required to do so. Medical geneticists and genetic counselors are disproportionately concentrated in large academic centers, and their numbers are inadequate to support the number of patients that may benefit from WGS. This limitation will have a disproportionate effect on patients in rural and/or medically underserved areas. For example, all but one of the genetic counselors in Alabama are based in Birmingham or Huntsville (lone exception is in Mobile), which means that the southern 2/3 of the state, including major rural underserved areas, have little to no local access to genetic counseling services.

These barriers are especially apparent in neonatal care. For parents of sick neonates, their first interactions with the healthcare system take place in the NICU. Neonatology training traditionally emphasizes critical care and can neglect communication, with one study reporting that 93% of fellows stated that their training in this area should be improved. There is a particular lack of training in genomic neonatal medicine, with few didactic lectures, role play sessions, simulated experiences, or hands on training in clinically relevant scenarios. When infants are diagnosed with congenital anomalies in utero, prenatal consultation with subspecialists can be confusing for genetic conditions with a spectrum of causes and outcomes, and inconsistent information given by different providers, e.g., the neonatologist and the pediatric surgeon.

A central premise underlying the proposal is that non-genetics health care providers, including those outside of academic medical centers, can be empowered to use WGS-testing in their practices. There is ample precedent for implementation of complex technology in primary care: pediatricians, internists, and family practitioners routinely use advanced imaging technologies without a deep understanding of the underlying technology. Bringing WGS-enabled genomic medicine to community health care providers requires, at the least, straightforward criteria to identify patients who may benefit, a user-friendly consent process, clearly worded laboratory reports, easily accessible patient education materials, ready access to support from medical geneticists and genetic counselors, and basic training in how WGS can be applied routinely. The study investigators seek to demonstrate that, if these factors are provided, WGS can be carried out and relevant results returned by newborn medicine providers, and that the patient experience will be at least equal to that achieved with the traditional approach of face-to-face counseling by a geneticist or genetic counselor.

In order to compare technology-assisted WGS result delivery by trained healthcare providers to formal genetic counseling by genetic counselors (standard of care), a series of surveys have been developed and will be completed online using the Genome Gateway platform/website developed for this trial. The survey time points are enrollment (specimen collection from the infant/proband), return of results (ROR) (roughly 2-3 months post-enrollment when WGS results are available), 1-month post-ROR counselling, 4-months post-ROR counselling, and 4.5 months post-ROR counselling.

Condition Whole Genome Sequencing
Treatment Genetic Counselor, Trained Healthcare Provider
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT03842995
SponsorUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham
Last Modified on28 January 2023

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