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NHS may struggle to cope with personalised medicine

8 August 2011
Appeared in BioNews 619

The NHS is 'unprepared' to deal with personalised medicine in the clinic, according to Sir John Bell - the UK Government's chief genetics advisor - during an interview with the Times. His comments come as a four-year-old girl last week became Britain's first person to have a rare genetic disease identified through DNA sequencing.

Sir John told the Times: 'There has already been a lot of innovation, almost none of which has been adopted by the NHS. There's now lots of evidence that the benefits we'll get from this will be at least very large, and could be enormous'.

He added: 'There's more than enough we could be doing here, but the NHS is completely unprepared. This is not the future any more: it is a technology of today'. Personalised medicine can identify rare undiagnosed diseases, determine which drugs will be most effective in treating cancer and track bacterial infections such as MRSA (Methicillin [Multidrug]-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), the Times reports.

According to this report, geneticists attended a two-hour seminar organised by the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron last month to offer advice on how the NHS can make genetic medicine routine.

Sir John said that the NHS lacked the infrastructure to store large amounts of sensitive genetic information safely. There are concerns this could lead to privacy breaches or insurers demanding access to people's results and pushing up insurance premiums.

In his interview Sir John also said that upfront investment in genetic technology could save the NHS money by reducing the need for clinical tests and stopping patients being given ineffective drugs.

Dame Sally Davies, the UK's Chief Medical Officer, told the Times that the Government's NHS reforms would address some of Sir John's concerns. Research hospitals are also starting to use new genetic technology, she said.

All in the Genes
The Times |  3 August 2011
Revolution in genetics exposes NHS flaws
The Times |  3 August 2011
UK health service 'unprepared' for genomics
PHG foundation |  3 August 2011
5 November 2012 - by Professor Donna Dickenson 
The soaring promises made by personalised medicine advocates are probably loftier than in any other medical or scientific realm today. Francis Collins, former co-director of the Human Genome Project, wrote: 'We are on the leading edge of a true revolution in medicine, one that promises to transform the traditional "one size fits all" approach into a much more powerful strategy'...
21 November 2011 - by Chris Phillips 
In Spring 2011 I was delighted to accept an invitation to join a panel of speakers at the Genetic Alliance UK conference in London. The session's main topic was the panel's view of the commissioning debate in the NHS....
14 November 2011 - by Dr Louisa Petchey 
A new genetic test that will help to tailor drugs to cancer patients' individual tumours has been successfully trialled in the US...
31 October 2011 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
The NHS must take steps to prepare for a revolution in genetics-based medicine, according to a new report by the independent think tank, the Foundation for Genomics and Public Health (the PHG Foundation). The Foundation says that rapid advances in technology will soon make it possible for individuals to have their entire genome analysed affordably, and this will have a major impact on many aspects of healthcare...
12 September 2011 - by Dr Zara Mahmoud 
Using nurses to pre-screen people for genetic risk of cancer, cardiac or endocrine disease before they're sent to specialist services can reduce referrals by up to 75 percent, a preliminary trial has found....
1 August 2011 - by Connie St Louis 
The intersection of racial categories and emerging genetic technology is bound to be vexed given - for example - the long history of eugenics and segregation in the United States. Although the topic has received little attention among the UK general public, pharmaceutical companies on both sides of the Atlantic are investing huge amounts of research and development into individually tailored drugs - pharmacogenetics....
20 June 2011 - by Ruth Pidsley 
US scientists have reported possibly the first example of using one person's genetic sequence to refine a diagnosis and provide personalised medical treatment. Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) helped pinpoint defects in the DNA of 14-year-old fraternal twins Noah and Alexis Beery causing their rare neurological condition, dopamine-responsive dystonia (DRD)...
8 November 2010 - by Professor Sandy Raeburn 
About 15 years ago, I formed the view we should be less ambitious about improving 'Public Understanding of Science' because we should not expect the public to understand genetic principles in detail. Better, I thought, to give a grounding in core science skills...
18 October 2010 - by MacKenna Roberts 
The UK's Nuffield Council on Bioethics has reported that direct-to-consumer personal genetic profiling services used to predict people's genetic susceptibility for common diseases, such as Parkinson's and diabetes, are often inconclusive, misleading and can potentially cause unnecessary anxiety, complacency or distress when no treatment is available...
5 June 2010 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
Cancer patients in the UK are to be treated with drugs specific to the genetic make-up of their individual tumours. A new initiative, to be launched by the NHS this autumn, will test the tumours of up to 6000 cancer patients a year for known genetic mutations....
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