DNA mapping for cancer patients

DNA The human genome contains three billion pairs of code

Up to 100,000 patients with cancer and rare diseases in England are to have their entire genetic code sequenced.

The Prime Minister will announce £100m has been set aside for the project over the next three to five years.

The aim is to give doctors a better understanding of patients' genetic make-up, condition and treatment needs, and help develop new cancer treatments.

One human genome contains three billion base pairs - the building blocks of DNA.

Sequencing the code produces a huge amount of data. Although the price is falling fast, it currently costs £5,000 to £10,000 - which explains why no country in the world has embarked on mass DNA mapping on this scale.

When it will start - who will do the genome sequencing and analysis - has not been worked out - nor which patients will be eligible for the voluntary testing.

But the hope is by comparing genetic profiles of huge numbers of patients, it will allow scientists to understand why some do far better than others - and help in the quest for new treatments.

Privacy campaigners are concern such a move could allow personal data to be passed on to private companies, such as insurance companies.

Dr Kat Arney from Cancer Research UK: ''There could be very big benefits for cancer patients in the future''

But ministers insist the project is for medical research alone.

For existing patients, DNA mapping may lead to better targeting of medicines.

The power of this type of genetic analysis was demonstrated earlier this year when a study of 2,000 breast cancers showed the cancer should be thought of as 10 completely separate diseases.

Personalised therapies

There are already a handful of targeted treatments - for breast, lung, bowel and blood cancers - where tests for a single gene can reveal whether a patient is likely to respond.

For example, breast cancer patients are tested to see if their tumour is positive for 'Her2', a protein that can accelerate the growth of malignant cells. If so they can benefit from Herceptin, a drug which works on patients with high levels of the Her2 protein.

Whole genome mapping may yield more of these personalised therapies.

Speaking ahead of the announcement David Cameron said: "By unlocking the power of DNA data, the NHS will lead the global race for better tests, better drugs and above all better care."

The chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, said: "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."

Stratified medicine

  • Cancer Research UK launched it 'stratified medicine' project last year. It aims to group, or 'stratify' patients into those who will respond best to particular treatments. DNA samples of 9,000 patients with breast, bowel, prostate, lung and ovarian cancer, and melanoma are being collected at seven centres across the UK. The genetic make-up of the cancer will be analysed and the key mutations noted. The information will be stored as a guide to help future research.

There are a number of existing projects seeking to improve understanding of the genetics of cancer, such as Cancer Research UK's 'stratified medicine' programme.

The UK is part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium which is planning to sequence 50 different cancers and catalogue their different mutations.

There are more than 200 types of cancer - it is a complex and highly resistant disease - the talk among specialists is less of cures and more of improved long-term outcomes.

So most of the benefits from these ambitious projects are likely to be among the next generation of cancer patients.

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I say NO to Govt funded R&D :)

    Private entrepreneurism out performed & embarrassed the long running, internationally Govt funded, program to be the 1st to sequence the human genome. Govt was (and is) woefully inefficient :(

    Have a look at this bloke, destroying the myth we need Govt funded R&D. It's eerie that it was in the area of DNA sequencing too:

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    This study will only work if it has the genomes of healthy people as well as those who already have cancer. Then and only then can the scientists see if specific genes, or more probably combination of genes predispose people to cancer.

    This leads to two important questions: a) do you tell people they may get cancer?

    and b) will this be kept from insurance companies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.


    Is there a policy to promote bad news?


    Yes, there is. It's adopted by all sections of the media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    "with cancer and rare diseases in England". Note the reference to things other than cancer. Given that it is already legal in this country to discriminate against certain genetic diseases (yes it is!) we need to tread very carefully.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    On the face of it we are lurching into Orwell's territory here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.


    Why isn't this on the main News page to balance the
    "Funding and staff 'cut' for cancer networks" article?

    Is there a policy to promote bad news?

    Of ocurse there is, you can't expect the lefty Beeb to publish good news about this 'orrible' tory government - it goes again't the corporations very grain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    It has been proven beyond any doubt that chemotherapy has never cured anyone of cancer, but also that although it 'reduces' the amount of cancer cells, it makes those cells grow faster and immune to any further chemotherapy treatments. The Govt.. should be spending the budget on Adult stem cell treatment, which is non controversial and proven to eradicate all cancers. www.stemcellpatient.net

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Under laissez faire economic, technical & scientific growth just emerge, like grass after the rain, through the efforts of individual entrepreneurs & philanthropists. Once the State has initiated the rule of law & sensible commercial legislation, the goodies will flow — & laissez faire is morally superior to "Dirigisme" as it maximises the freedoms & responsibilities of the individual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    14.Some Lingering Fog

    Nope. NOTA

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Oh dear. I have a bad feeling that this is just the beginning.

    It would be nice to think that the data would only be used for good causes but I doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    @9. ravenmorpheus2k

    And some should look at the bigger picture and realise what is really happening.

    BTW I wouldn't vote Labour either, so that kind of ruins your insinuation that I'm a Labour supporter, doesn't it. Want to try again?



  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Regardless of the pros and cons of this, the newsworthiness is certainly greater than that of the winner of a sludge programme from the other channel!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    What is the point of this research if the funding for the clinical networks that are supposed to put this work to good use to treat patients is being cut?

    And the biomedical research teams that take these results and confirm them in biological systems to ensure that findings can be therapeutically targeted, will we gain the appropriate funding? Or is this just more spin?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It's a big myth is that government must fund scientific research. In practice, companies fund pure science very generously, & government funding displaces private research money.

    Scientists may love government money, & politicians may love the power its expenditure confers upon them, but society is impoverished by the transaction. Abolish companies' taxes; let them do it more efficiently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Again its all cancer. the last labour government was fixcated on this and now this government. There are other life threating illnesses that are never top priority MS, Organ transplant, Cisticphybrosis, to name a few.. When will these other illnesses get a justifiable look in for extra monies for research? it is not a level playing field when cancer is mentioned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I think it's time some of the electorate started to think about the country and not just the Labour party.

    And some should look at the bigger picture and realise what is really happening.

    BTW I wouldn't vote Labour either, so that kind of ruins your insinuation that I'm a Labour supporter, doesn't it. Want to try again?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    So £100m eh, this'll be coming from the old "we have to look like we're doing something to hide what we're really doing" pot...
    I feel sorry for this government they get slaged off if they cut, slagged off if they invest. I think it's time some of the electorate started to think about the country and not just the Labour party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    How much of this funding was already earmarked in the science and research budget and been appropriated for what is undoubtedly a good cause, now depriving other health research budgets of their much needed funds?

    How much has been diverted from the Cancer Networks to fund this?

    We are told there is a limited amount of fund available, so what has lost out as a consequence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Good idea, one which will result in meaning treatment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    So £100m eh, this'll be coming from the old "we have to look like we're doing something to hide what we're really doing" pot...


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