NEWS | January 31, 2019

UC Davis Children's Hospital joins program to test critically ill newborns

Project Baby Bear, $2 million Medi-Cal program, offers genomic testing


UC Davis Children's Hospital this month joins Project Baby Bear, the first California state-funded program to offer rapid whole genome sequencing (WGS) for critically ill newborns. 

Newborn baby Newborn baby

The $2 million Medi-Cal pilot program will provide genome testing for babies under a year of age who are hospitalized in intensive care and suspected of having a genetic disorder. The project launched at Rady's Children's Hospital in San Diego last September and four hospitals are currently participating statewide.  

“We are delighted to have UC Davis Children’s Hospital as a Project Baby Bear site,” said Stephen Kingsmore, president and chief executive officer of Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine. “This is a clear demonstration of the commitment of UC Davis Children’s Hospital to making the benefits of the most advanced genomic testing widely available to all babies and children across California.”

UC Davis Children's Hospital is expected to enroll about 30 to 40 patients before June 2019. It is not a research study, but rather a feasibility clinical pilot project.

Suma Shankar
Suma Shankar

“We are really excited about the opportunity to be part of Project Baby Bear," said Suma Shankar, associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UC Davis Precision Genomics Clinic.

Shankar noted that the turnaround time for test results with Project Baby Bear is just three to five days.

"The application of a rapid WGS genetic test will save time in obtaining accurate diagnoses for patients," Shankar said. "Time is of the essence in neonates and infants. Often with genetic tests, we are waiting for months to get an answer. This project may provide answers that will help in the management of acutely ill patients in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).”

The UC Davis Precision Genomics Clinic already uses whole genome sequencing for children with undiagnosed, often congenital, conditions to find the underlying genetic causes and improve their care. This project will provide access to Medi-Cal patients.

"Genomic medicine truly is cutting edge, combining state-of-the-art technology of next gen sequencing with the understanding of the complex biological details of an individual, helping to tailor personalized treatment,” said Katherine Rauen, chief of genomic medicine at UC Davis Children's Hospital.

Rauen believes that UC Davis is the ideal site for this pilot project.

"Next-generation sequencing is changing how we diagnose, treat and manage our patients," Rauen said. "This pilot project has the potential to alter the landscape not only in pediatric medicine but also in medicine as a whole, and Dr. Shankar is the perfect person to be at the helm of this project.”

The purpose of whole genome sequencing is to find genetic variations that are associated with a child’s health condition. DNA, which makes up a human's genetic code, is found in most cells of a person’s body.

Whole genome sequencing is a genetic test that reads through most of an individual’s DNA sequence to look for changes in the ‘spelling’ of genes. Genes provide the specific instructions needed to tell our bodies how to grow and develop. When a gene contains a spelling error or variant, it may not work properly and can lead to a genetic disorder.