UK leading genetic research

DNA image

DNA project aims to put UK on the map as research experts

A new project that strives to revolutionise medicine by studying DNA is now underway in centres across England.

By analysing genomes – the building blocks of DNA – scientists hope to help create targeted therapies for every area of medicine, covering everything from cancer to cardiology. Experts even predict that chemotherapy could become a thing of the past. Currently, the project has sequenced the genetic codes of people with cancer or rare diseases.

The four year project run by Genomics England aims to cover 100,000 genomes, with 100 genomes already tackled and targets of 1,000 by the end of the year and 10,000 by the end of 2015. The research is already proving vital, as advances in genetics show that breast cancer alone is not one disease but at least 10, each with a different cause, life expectancy and needing different treatment. Some targeted drugs exist, such as Herceptin, but this can only be given if a patient has a certain breast tumour mutation.

Breakthroughs

Pilot schemes have been set up in Newcastle, Cambridge and London, with the work beginning on 30th May. Researchers believe that by looking for subtle differences between genetic codes which lead to disease they can create the next medical breakthrough, as genomes of a patient’s tumour will be compared with the genetic code of their healthy tissue. People who have rare disease, most usually children, will have their DNA compared with a close relative.

Sir John Chisholm, executive chair of Genomics England, told BBC News “In Britain we were the discoverers of the structure of DNA, we were huge players in the human genome project and now the time has come for the next major step forward. One hundred thousand sequences is a very large step; it’s a huge commitment.”

Prof Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said “I can see a future where genetics is going to come into every bit of medicine from cardiology to oncology to infectious diseases. We will have a series of mutations which academics and industry will have developed therapies for, which will be targeted at you and specific for that cancer. We will look back in 20 years’ time and think of blockbuster chemotherapy [as] a thing of the past and we’ll think ‘Gosh, what an era that was’.”

PM David Cameron 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.”

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