Exome sequencing compared with standard genetic tests for critically ill infants with suspected genetic conditions

Genet Med. 2020 Aug;22(8):1303-1310. doi: 10.1038/s41436-020-0798-1. Epub 2020 Apr 27.


Purpose: As exome sequencing (ES) is increasingly used as a diagnostic tool, we aimed to compare ES with status quo genetic diagnostic workup for infants with suspected genetic disorders in terms of identifying diagnoses, survival, and cost of care.

Methods: We studied newborns and infants admitted to intensive care with a suspected genetic etiology within the first year of life at a US quaternary-referral children's hospital over 5 years. In this propensity-matched cohort study using electronic medical record data, we compared patients who received ES as part of a diagnostic workup (ES cohort, n = 368) with clinically similar patients who did not receive ES (No-ES cohort, n = 368).

Results: Diagnostic yield (27.4% ES, 25.8% No-ES; p = 0.62) and 1-year survival (80.2% ES, 84.8% No-ES; p = 0.10) were no different between cohorts. ES cohort patients had higher cost of admission, diagnostic investigation, and genetic testing (all p < 0.01).

Conclusion: ES did not differ from status quo genetic testing collectively in terms of diagnostic yield or patient survival; however, it had high yield as a single test, led to complementary classes of diagnoses, and was associated with higher costs. Further work is needed to define the most efficient use of diagnostic ES for critically ill newborns and infants.

Keywords: comparative effectiveness; exome sequencing; health economics; health policy; neonatal intensive care unit.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Critical Illness*
  • Exome* / genetics
  • Genetic Testing
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn