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£300m DNA project could revolutionize British medicine

Published time: August 01, 2014 16:01
AFP Photo/HO

AFP Photo/HO

Medicine could be revolutionized by a UK project committed to mapping the DNA genetic code of people with cancer and rare diseases.

The four-year project to sequence 100,000 people’s DNA could lead to targeted therapies, making treatments like chemotherapy "a thing of the past.” Scientists believe our understanding of DNA will soon play a role in every aspect of medicine.

The genome of a participating patient's tumour will be scoured for differences with the genetic code of their healthy tissue, while those with rare diseases will have their DNA compared with that of close relatives. Fifteen thousand families of people with rare diseases will take part in the project.

The first genome was sequenced on May 30 by Genomics England, with the aim of reaching 1,000 by the end of the year, and 10,000 by the end of 2015.

Lifting hopes of finding the illusive cure for cancer, understanding how tumours are caused by mutations in DNA will be central to the research. For example, breast cancer is not one disease but at least 10, each with a different cause, life expectancy and correct treatment. The new research could potentially revolutionize methods of identifying and treating the disease.

“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,” said Sir John Chisholm, executive chair of Genomics England.

“One hundred thousand sequences is a very large step; it's a huge commitment.”

The world-recognised centre of genetics research in Cambridge, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, will play host to Genomics England.

A series of investments across government, industry and charities totalling £300 million was announced by PM David Cameron.

“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,” he said.

“I believe we will be able to transform how devastating diseases are diagnosed and treated in the NHS and across the world.”

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