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San Diego Blood Donors Get Free Genome Sequencing

A woman gets her blood type analyzed at a blood drive where select participan...

Photo by Christopher Maue

Above: A woman gets her blood type analyzed at a blood drive where select participants received free genome sequencing, Nov. 24, 2015.

A select group of blood donors at this year's Chargers Blood Drive gave one extra tube of blood. That's because they're not just donating blood — they're also getting their genome sequenced.

San Diego-based Illumina is providing free sequencing to 70 San Diego Blood Bank donors. The Blood Bank's goal is to compile a DNA database for researchers to comb through in hopes of pinpointing genes linked with health outcomes.

La Mesa resident Penelope Navarro was one of the pre-selected participants. She signed up to learn about the diseases her family may need to look out for.

"I'm a breast cancer survivor," Navarro said. "And I have children and grandchildren. So I thought an experience like this would help in perhaps finding out whether or not that's something they might need to be looking into as they grow older."

By participating, Navarro agreed to provide her DNA for research purposes, letting scientists search her genes for correlations with diseases like breast cancer. She'll also be able to access her genome online and learn more about it at an Illumina event next year.

Illumina normally provides this service at a cost of nearly $3,000. Illumina's Vice President of Applied Genomics Dawn Barry said the idea behind providing it for free is to get a more diverse group of people donating their DNA for research.

More research into more genomes could make healthcare more personalized and precise, Barry said.

"Precision medicine is inherently community-based medicine - personalized medicine," Barry said. "So it shouldn't just be about the community, it should include the community. And that's really what we're doing here, is including the community in precision medicine."

If this small pilot program in San Diego proves successful, Illumina hopes other blood banks across the country will try a similar approach.

San Diego Blood Donors Get Free Genome Sequencing

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