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Whole genome sequencing for NHS cancer patients

10 December 2012
Appeared in BioNews 685

The UK Government has announced plans that will allow 100,000 NHS patients to have their whole genome sequenced over the next three to five years, as part of a move to boost growth in the life sciences industry. The project will help doctors target patients' treatment and also produce a database for further research, the Government says.

Initially patients with cancer or rare diseases will have their genomes screened in a voluntary scheme. The Government has set aside £100 million of taxpayers' money for the project, to train new and existing healthcare staff and to build NHS infrastructure.

Prime Minister David Cameron said, 'It is crucial that we continue to push the boundaries and this new plan will mean we are the first country in the world to use DNA codes in the mainstream of the health service'.

'By unlocking the power of DNA data, the NHS will lead the global race for better tests, better drugs and above all better care. We are turning an important scientific breakthrough into a potentially life-saving reality for NHS patients across the country'.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies explained that entire genome sequencing offers new therapeutic potential beyond single gene testing, which is already available on the NHS for relevant diseases. She said, 'This funding opens up the possibility of being able to look at the three billion DNA pieces in each of us so we can get a greater understanding of the complex relationship between our genes and lifestyle'.

Sir John Bell, professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, speaking on BBC Radio Four's Today programme, said, 'We're now getting to the point where the use of genetics in patients can actually help us deliver medicines and understand cancer much better, and to understand a range of diseases in a much more precise way'.

The human genome was first sequenced in 2000 at a cost of around £500 million but improvements in DNA sequencing technology have meant that the cost has since fallen. The Government expects the cost of sequencing a whole genome will continue to fall to under £1,000 and has predicted it may fall even further.

The Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, said, 'The UK is well placed to play a world-leading role in this next phase of the biomedical revolution, thanks to its first class science and research base and the unique position of the NHS as a single healthcare provider'.

The NHS Commissioning Board will now determine how to implement the service with an aim to start doing so by 2014.

Britain launches genome database for patients' DNA
Reuters |  10 December 2012
DNA mapping for cancer patients
BBC News |  10 December 2012
DNA of 100,000 people to be mapped for NHS
The Guardian |  10 December 2012
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