Business

New Genome Test Shows A Child’s Risk Of Disease — Before They’re Born

What if we could predict the genetic risks of children before they were born and find ways to mitigate these risks before conception? Orchid, a company that helps couples have healthy babies by offering a new type of genetic test, is making it possible to quantify risks for couples who are planning to have a child in the future. 

Today, Orchid announced a $4.5 million seed funding round and backing from top institutional venture capitalists and founders of established companies, including 23andMe. Orchid has created the first test on the market to examine the whole genome of both partners and evaluate the genetic risk of their child having common chronic diseases. Orchid also provides physician oversight and expert support to couples, including a personalized consultation with a board-certified genetic counselor. 

Testing for Genetic Risks 

Orchid’s Couple Report is a saliva-based genetic test that couples can take at home to determine if their future child would have a higher risk of certain genetic diseases. The test analyzes both partners’ DNA and looks for 10 diseases: breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, atrial fibrillation, stroke, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease.  

“We are able to determine how likely these 10 diseases are to impact the health of the couple’s future child,” says founder and CEO of Orchid, Noor Siddiqui. “In contrast to other genetic tests, which typically only analyze about 2% of your DNA with a genotyping chip, we analyze the entire genome. We do 100% and look at all 3 billion bases.” 

By evaluating the whole genome of both partners, the company can combine the results to determine their future child’s risk profile and send couples the results of the test in four to six weeks. Couples receive three reports: a couples report, an individual report for the female partner, and an individual report for the male partner. 

“We model how both partners’ DNA are going to recombine in their future child so that we can give them a risk estimate,” says Siddiqui. Couples can already sign up for Orchid’s waitlist to get early access to the Couple Report. 

Understanding Complex Genetic Conditions 

Traditional genetic testing that is still used today is carrier screening for recessive traits. It helps determine if a person is a carrier of a recessive genetic disease. Usually, they test the female partner first. If the female is a carrier, then they screen the male partner for rare variants.

What makes Orchid different is its test can check for complex diseases and not just recessive conditions. Genetics is complex because there is more than one gene that causes the disease. There are millions of variants that contribute to the risk of major diseases, such as heart disease or schizophrenia.

“The main advance that has happened in genomics in recent years is that now we can finally measure genetic susceptibility for diseases that have a more complex architecture, which means there are millions of variants that are collectively involved in determining how low or high risk that individual is for developing a disease,” says Siddiqui. 

Since every report from Orchid comes with a personalized consultation with a board-certified genetic counselor, couples can create an action plan. Options include IVF and embryo screening, and Orchid is planning to offer couples embryo health reports later this year that will analyze 100% of each embryo’s genome and check for genetic risks. 

“I grew up like millions of other Americans with family members that had devastating diseases,” says Siddiqui. “It felt really unfair that one family member had to suffer while others did not. I was compelled by the idea of understanding why some people win the genetic lottery at birth and are healthy.” 

Preventing chronic conditions in future generations by evaluating risk factors is Orchid’s goal. The prevention of diseases through embryo screening and IVF is already widely accepted. For example, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) supports the rights of patients to make informed choices about their child’s future. 

Knowing if you or your future children have an elevated genetic risk for diseases creates personal power. You can monitor your biometrics, get earlier screenings and make lifestyle changes. It allows you to be proactive about your health and advocate better for yourself by going to the doctor. You can also choose to have IVF and embryo screening for your future child. Understanding your personalized genetic data gives you options.

Thank you to Lana Bandoim for additional research and reporting in this article. I’m the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies that I write about are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest.

Looking to learn more about the future of healthcare? Be sure to join SynBioBeta’s upcoming Biopharma Event!




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