Govt starts a new DNA database

By Charles Maggs

Up to one hundred thousand cancer patients are to have their DNA codes sequenced under government plans to be announced later today.

It is hoped the new procedure will improve doctor's understanding of individual patient's reactions to cancer treatments, ensuring they get the right drugs and care.

Health secetary Jeremy Hunt was quick to allay civil liberties concerns stressing that the plan was "completely voluntary and anomalised." 

Speaking before the launch today, the prime minister hailed the move as groundbreaking.

"Britain has often led the world in scientific breakthroughs and medical innovations, from the first CT scan and test-tube baby through to decoding DNA," he said.

"It is crucial that we continue to push the boundaries and this new plan will mean we are the first country in the world to use DNA codes in the mainstream of the health service."

The scheme will be voluntary, meaning patients can opt out if they wish, but doctors have been keen to stress the benefits of allowing this kind of treatment.

The new plan will cost £100 million and will go towards training up more genetic scientists to find new drugs.

Although it is a very expensive procedure to map a patients genetic sequences, the cost is falling all the time, from an initial £10,000 per person it is expected to soon cost as little as £1,000 each.

Sir John Bell, professor of medical sciences at Oxford University and government advisor on human genomics believes this will transform cancer treatment in the UK.

"The use of genetics in patients can help us to deliver medicines and understand cancer much better and to understand a range of diseases in a much more precise way," he told Radio 4's Today program.

"There are some people with a genetic predisposition to getting cancer – they tend to be relatively rare – but once you have a cancer, the major drivers of the behaviour of that cancer are genetic.

"So an understanding of the genetics of that cancer are crucially important."

The first hundred thousand patients will just be the first tranche of sufferers and the plan is expected to be rolled out much more widely.