NHS starts new era of DNA medicine

Posted: December 21, 2014 at 9:41 pm

ITV Report 22 December 2014 at 1:26am Credit: Christoph Bock/Max Planck Institute for Informatics

More than ten years since scientists completed the first sequence of the human genome, today the genetic era will make its grand entrance into mainstream clinical care.

This morning, NHS England launched its 100,000 Genomes Project, a three-year plan to sequence the entire genetic code of thousands of patients with cancers and rare diseases.

The latter includes thousands of conditions that are often named after first doctor or scientist to describe the symptoms in a patient and can involve everything from neurological to muscular or behavioural problems. They are debilitating, often inherited and can shorten life but usually defy doctors trying to identify the biological causes.

The potential for all this genetic information is huge. As well as insights into how cancers and rare diseases work and how they progress, knowing which genetic variations a person has will help doctors work out ways to personalise their treatment by giving them drugs, for example, that specifically target particular problematic genetic mutations. This already happens to some extent in the NHS with drugs such as Herceptin for some types of breast cancer but the potential to improve so-called precision medicine using genetic information is vast.

Genomes have always held the promise to be the cornerstone of healthcare in the 21st century, ever since the draft of the first human genome was published in 2000. The international Human Genome Project (HGP) was a staggering achievement, taking hundreds of researchers more than a decade to piece together the 3 billion letters of the human genetic code, at a cost of around $3bn.

Today, we are learning the language in which God created life, said President Bill Clinton on the morning of 26 June 2000, when the draft of the first human genome sequence was formally announced:

We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God's most divine and sacred gift. With this profound new knowledge, humankind is on the verge of gaining immense, new power to heal.

Genome science will have a real impact on all our lives and even more, on the lives of our children. It will revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases.

Bill Clinton

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NHS starts new era of DNA medicine

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