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This article is from the WebMD News Archive

DNA mapping for cancer treatment announced

Prime minister confirms funding to 'revolutionise fight against cancer'
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard

10th December 2012 - Up to 100,000 patients are to have their personal DNA code sequenced to improve treatment for cancer and those with rare diseases.

The Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that £100 million has been earmarked to help finance the technology over the next three to five years.

The government says the UK will be the first country in the world to introduce genetic sequencing within a mainstream health system.

Personalised treatment

Sequencing a person's whole genome amounts to obtaining an individual's personal DNA code and will give doctors a new, advanced understanding of a patient's genetic make-up, condition and treatment needs. This will ensure they have access to the best medication and personalised care far quicker than before.

It could also lead to new drugs and treatments which could cut the number of deaths from cancer.

Although the cost of genetic profiling is falling, it has been hugely expensive. The first attempt to sequence a human genome 12 years ago involved a project costing £500 million. Experts say the same thing will soon be possible for less than £1,000, with the cost expected to fall still further.

'Potentially life-saving reality': PM

Speaking ahead of the announcement, Mr Cameron said in a statement: "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.

"If we get this right, we could transform how we diagnose and treat our most complex diseases not only here but across the world, while enabling our best scientists to discover the next wonder drug or breakthrough technology."

The chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies says in a statement: "Single gene testing is already available across the NHS ranging from diagnosing cancers to assessing patients’ risk of suffering side effects from treatment.

"At the moment, these tests focus on diseases caused by changes in a single gene. 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."


The £100million identified by the government to fund the project will be spent on:

  • Training British genetic scientists to develop new medications, treatments and cures and boost the reputation of the UK as a leader in the field
  • Pump-priming DNA profiling for cancer and rare inherited diseases; and to build the NHS data infrastructure to ensure that this new technology leads to better care for patients

Patients will be able to opt out of having their genome sequenced without jeopardising their NHS care, the government says. Data will also be anonymised before it is stored.

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