Today (1st October 2018) marks a huge stride in ‘precision medicine’ in the UK as the NHS begins to offer gene therapies tailored to individual patients.
Hospitals across England have connected to specialist centres that analyse patient DNA to help diagnose rare diseases and pair patients with the most effective treatments in accordance to their unique genetic makeup. The project saw the set up of seven hubs across the UK where DNA tests on patients with cancer and rare diseases were conducted.
This ground-breaking development in medicine follows the 100 000 genomes project launched by Genomics England in 2012. The company, owned by the Department of Health & Social Care aims to — “create an ethical and transparent programme based on consent; to bring benefit to patients and set up a genomic medicine service for the NHS; to enable new scientific discovery and medical insights; and to kick-start the development of a UK genomics industry.”
Cancer (which can be described as a genomic disease) is the illness set to be affected most by whole genome sequencing (WGS). “By comparing the DNA sequence from a patient’s tumour and healthy cells, we can provide insight into the exact nature and genomic changes that are associated with an individual’s cancer,” explained Genomics England. Doctors can then use the results to help with both diagnosis and treatment choice. “WGS can also begin to show which patients are unlikely to respond to a particular treatment – saving unnecessary medication and toxic side effects.”
WGS for cancer in the NHS is a big challenge as – “It involves changing the way hospitals move samples from patients to laboratories. It also involves changing how laboratories and staff work.”
The hope is that this fantastic feat and stride in the fight against cancer will continue to shine the light on Britain’s reputation as being at the forefront of medical innovation.