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This why Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) includes the creation of a million-person research cohort. Participants will provide blood and urine samples, share information from their electronic health records and answer questions about health and lifestyle. The hope is that this trove of data will reveal the genetic underpinnings for a variety of diseases, leading to personalized diagnostics and treatments.

It’s a bold goal, and one that private companies have a head start on. For instance, 23andMe, a direct-to-consumer genetic testing company, already has a 1.2 million person genetic database.

But genetic data banks amassed by private companies don’t necessarily have to follow the same regulations regarding access to their data that federally funded researchers do. And a recent proposal to change consent regulations for human research may make it cheaper for private companies to collect and use this data than public ones.

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