A fast, low cost DNA test that can reveal a person's chances of developing certain inherited diseases could soon be a reality, scientists in Scotland have said. The test involves testing a patient's saliva to identify disease-related variations in their genetic code and is faster and cheaper than conventional methods, according to the study published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
Dr Juan Diaz-Mochon of the University of Edinburgh's School of Chemistry, who led the research, says the team plan to use the technology to launch a new test for cystic fibrosis 'within five months'. He believes the technique has a number of advantages over conventional methods: 'The technology offers a speedy, cost-efficient alternative to existing methods of DNA analysis. The market for DNA testing is quickly expanding as it becomes more affordable. Our method could help reach the goal of complete genome analysis in a few hours for less than $1000.'
At present genetic testing to see if someone has the Huntington's gene, which causes a devastating neurodegenerative disease, can take at least two weeks on the NHS. But using the new technology, the the same results could be returned in a matter of minutes, Dr Diaz-Mochon said: 'We could get the results in maybe half an hour from beginning to end. That is what we are aiming for.'
The technique could also be used to develop personalised prevention plans for patients, by providing a quick, cost-effective means to test for genetic variants which increase a person's risk of developing a wide range of common diseases, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease. In addition it could be used to indicate whether a patient will respond to certain drugs, allowing treatment programmes to be tailored to an individual's genetic make-up.
The new method uses chemical analysis and can deliver reliable results without the need for the expensive enzymes used in conventional DNA testing, say the researchers. Once perfected, the new technique could cut the cost of scanning a whole genome from around $50,000 (£32,000) to less than $1000. It could mean results are available within hours, rather than days.
Professor Mark Bradley, who also contributed to the study, said: 'We plan to test the technology further, extend our collaborations with leading researchers and companies in the DNA sequencing field.' So far, the new technique can test for genetic variations for one condition at a time, but in future the scientists hope to be able to decode a person's entire genome.