David Cameron said that British scientists are set to commence a project which will map 100000 complete DNA code sequences which will make the country a world leader in genetic research on rare diseases and cancer.
The Prime Minister has announced deals of £300m to fund the project which should be completed by 2017.
The project will involve sequencing of genetic codes of around 75000 patients who suffer with cancer and rare diseases, as well as those of their close relatives. Both the tumour and the healthy cells of the patients will be mapped, which means approximately 100000 will be sequenced in total.
David Cameron said that as the plan is realised, the UK will be able to change the method of diagnosis and treatment for these diseases, not only in the NHS, but across the globe.
Scientists hope that by identifying small genetic code changes that are responsible for triggering disease, it will allow them to devise personalised, more effective treatment plans.
An example of the type of therapy is Herceptin. This is a drug used in the treatment of a variant of breast cancer which is characterised by over-activity of the Her2 gene.
A few hundred participants have already donated DNA samples, and it is expected that about 10000 will have been donated by the close of the year.
The cancers which will be targeted include leukaemia, prostate, ovarian, breast, bowel and lung.
The contributors to the project are Britain’s National Health Service, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. The project will be managed by Genomics England which has been set up by the Department of Health.
Illumina, a DNA sequencing company based in California, won a contract to provide the project’s technology and will also invest around £162m in the project.
Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome Trust’s director, said medicine could be transformed by genome sequencing.
He said that two decades from now industry and academics will have developed treatment methods specifically targeted to the individual and the type of cancer.
He added that we will look back in two decades’ time and think about the blockbuster chemotherapy drugs with all those terrible side effects and recognise it as a thing of the past.
Image Credit: Mehmet Pinarci