Genomic medicine will be at the forefront of the NHS, according to a report released last week by the Human Genomics Strategy Group (HGSG). The report highlights the UK's achievements in genomic technology to date and makes six recommendations to ensure future benefit of genomic innovation within the NHS.
'We particularly support the proposal to link genomic data to patients' anonymised medical records through a secure national centre. This would create an unparalleled resource for research and diagnosis without compromising confidentiality or privacy', said Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, which spends over £100 million a year on genomic research.
With DNA sequencing becoming cheaper and faster - it is now possible to decode the human genome in a day for $1000 - it will soon be possible to routinely map a person's entire genome. This data, linked to medical records, would create the ideal resource for research into personalised medicine.
'It's almost impossible to go forward with the whole personalised medicine agenda, unless you have this database', said Sir John Bell, chair of the HGSG. 'Such a database benefits everybody'.
The details are yet to be finalised, but according to the Telegraph, Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England who is also a member of the HGSG, said this database was likely to be built up bit-by-bit.
The report also recommends the development of a strategic document to plan how the NHS will adopt such genomic technologies. Some of these are already being used, for example, in patients with specific types of cancer who are offered genetic tests to see whether they are more likely to respond to one treatment or another.
Currently, the NHS has genetic tests available for over 1,000 diseases, including sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis and some forms of cancer, however some researchers feel the report overstates how much these are actually used.
'This report grossly exaggerates the current utility of testing for risk of common, complex diseases', said Dr Stuart Hogarth of King's College London. 'For the most part, at the moment we can do no more than tell people that they are at slightly higher than average risk or slightly lower than average risk'.
Other recommendations include continued development of genomics education and training and raising public awareness of genomic technology and its benefits.