A major project aiming to revolutionise medicine by unlocking the secrets of DNA is under way in centres across England, BBC reported.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said it “will see the UK lead the world in genetic research within years”. The first genetic codes of people with cancer or rare diseases, out of a target of 100,000, have been sequenced.
Experts believe it will lead to targeted therapies and could make chemotherapy “a thing of the past”. They argue that understanding DNA will soon play a role in every aspect of medicine from cancer to cardiology. Tumours are caused by mutations in DNA which lead to abnormal cells growing unchecked.
Advances in genetics have shown that breast cancer is not one disease but at least 10 – each with a different cause, life expectancy and needing a different treatment. Targeted drugs exist such as Herceptin, which is given only if a patient’s breast tumour has a certain mutation.
The four-year 100,000 genomes project, run by Genomics England, which was set up for the purpose, is aiming to make such breakthroughs on a massive scale. Pilots have been set up at centres across England – including sites in Newcastle, Cambridge and London – and the first genome was sequenced on 30 May. The project has passed the 100 mark, with the aim of reaching 1,000 by the end of the year and 10,000 by the end of 2015.
Just one human genome contains more than three billion base pairs – the building blocks of DNA. It is by looking for subtle differences between genetic codes which lead to disease that researchers believe can fuel the next big breakthroughs. The genome of a patient’s tumour will be scoured for differences with the genetic code of their healthy tissue. People with rare diseases, usually children, will have their DNA compared with that of close relatives. University scientists and a drug companies will be allowed to access the data for their research.
David Cameron has announced a series of investments across government, industry and charities totalling £300m.
He said: “I am determined to do all I can to support the health and scientific sector to unlock the power of DNA, turning an important scientific breakthrough into something that will help deliver better tests, better drugs and above all better care for patients.
“I believe we will be able to transform how devastating diseases are diagnosed and treated in the NHS and across the world.”
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: “The NHS is now set to become one of the world’s ‘go-to’ health services for the development of innovative genomic tests and patient treatments, building on our long track record as the nation that brought humanity antibiotics, vaccines, modern nursing, hip replacements, IVF, CT scanners, and breakthrough discoveries from the circulation of blood to the existence of DNA.”