The NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Program and Network: Applications to modern medicine

Mol Genet Metab. 2016 Apr;117(4):393-400. doi: 10.1016/j.ymgme.2016.01.007. Epub 2016 Jan 22.


Introduction: The inability of some seriously and chronically ill individuals to receive a definitive diagnosis represents an unmet medical need. In 2008, the NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP) was established to provide answers to patients with mysterious conditions that long eluded diagnosis and to advance medical knowledge. Patients admitted to the NIH UDP undergo a five-day hospitalization, facilitating highly collaborative clinical evaluations and a detailed, standardized documentation of the individual's phenotype. Bedside and bench investigations are tightly coupled. Genetic studies include commercially available testing, single nucleotide polymorphism microarray analysis, and family exomic sequencing studies. Selected gene variants are evaluated by collaborators using informatics, in vitro cell studies, and functional assays in model systems (fly, zebrafish, worm, or mouse).

Insights from the udp: In seven years, the UDP received 2954 complete applications and evaluated 863 individuals. Nine vignettes (two unpublished) illustrate the relevance of an undiagnosed diseases program to complex and common disorders, the coincidence of multiple rare single gene disorders in individual patients, newly recognized mechanisms of disease, and the application of precision medicine to patient care.

Conclusions: The UDP provides examples of the benefits expected to accrue with the recent launch of a national Undiagnosed Diseases Network (UDN). The UDN should accelerate rare disease diagnosis and new disease discovery, enhance the likelihood of diagnosing known diseases in patients with uncommon phenotypes, improve management strategies, and advance medical research.

Keywords: Exome sequencing; Interdisciplinary research; Precision medicine; Undiagnosed and rare diseases.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.)*
  • Precision Medicine* / methods
  • Rare Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Rare Diseases / etiology
  • Research*
  • United States