A project aiming to revolutionise medicine by unlocking the secrets of DNA is under way in centres across England.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said it “will see the UK lead the world in genetic research within years”.
The first genetic codes of people with cancer or rare diseases, out of a target of 100,000, have been sequenced.
Experts believe it will lead to targeted therapies and could make chemotherapy “a thing of the past”.
Just one human genome contains more than three billion base pairs – the building blocks of DNA.
This four-year project which will look at 100,000 genomes is being run by Genomics England,.
Pilots have been set up at centres across England – including sites in Newcastle, Cambridge and London – and the first genome was sequenced on 30 May.
The project has now passed the 100 genome mark, with the aim of reaching 1,000 by the end of the year and 10,000 by the end of 2015.
The genome of a patient’s tumour will be scoured for differences with the genetic code of their healthy tissue.
People with rare diseases, usually children, will have their DNA compared with that of close relatives.
University scientists and a drug companies will be allowed to access the data for their research.
They argue that understanding DNA will soon play a role in every aspect of medicine from cancer to cardiology.
Cancer is one of the main areas the project will focus on.
Tumours are caused by mutations in DNA which lead to abnormal cells growing unchecked.
Previous genetics research has shown how different cancers can be – for example that breast cancer is not one disease but at least 10 – each with a different cause, life expectancy and needing a different treatment.
And the development of targeted drugs such as Herceptin, only given if a patient’s breast tumour has a certain mutation – has been possible because of genetics research.
The Health-Care Survivor’s Comment
Regular readers will know that I am strongly opposed to genetically modified foods, but does this story show that scientists growing fascination with genetics could, at last, be put to good use? I am still very deeply uneasy about the developments, described in the BBC’s article. never-the-less, I will l watch with interest and work hard to learn, and understand more about it. Please do read the full story, and if it is available in your area, to watch the video interview.
The hope seems to be that the toxic cocktail of prescription medication, could become less of a lottery than it often is now, because medication could be made to better target disease, with less damage to healthy cells. If the hope of this research lives up to the hype, which surrounds it, could it be that patients of the future will find themselves not needing to be ‘health-care survivors’, like me, as well as fighting to survive illness? I certainly hope so, but I am deeply sceptical.
I remain absolutely sure of one fundamental truth, demonstrated to me by my fight for sustainably good health, as described by My Serrapeptase Adventure:
Real medicine is natural medicine, not the pharmaceutical alternative.