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Illumina ‘gets 100,000 Genomes contract’

Published on 15/07/14 at 10:02am
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DNA sequence

Gene analysis specialist Illumina has been chosen to deliver a project to sequence 100,000 whole genomes from NHS patients by 2017, according to reports.

Genomics England (GeL), a company wholly-owned by the Department of Health, has made Illumina Cambridge its preferred partner to handle the 100,000 Genomes Project, whose inception was announced last year.

Those involved are tight-lipped about the plan. “The parties intend to work quickly towards a definitive agreement,” California-based Illumina tells Bloomberg in a statement.

GeL is preparing to launch its main programme, which will see around 30,000 genomes sequenced each year and annotated from the beginning of 2015.

Genetic mapping is seen as crucial to understanding a variety of diseases: patients with rare inherited conditions have already started providing samples of their blood to GeL so the whole of their DNA can be sequenced.

Last December the government offered a share of £10 million in a competition for businesses who could develop cutting edge software, in order to analyse and better interpret significant variations in the DNA of NHS patients with serious illnesses.

Advances in technology – leading to a significant drop in cost for DNA analysis, for one thing – means that there is a great deal of activity in this area at present.

For example, scientists in the UK are seeking volunteers prepared to share their DNA with the rest of the world for the Personal Genome Project, a database which will be scoured in a bid to provide clues to the treatment of all manner of diseases.

Meanwhile researchers from ICR and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute believe that a new method to take the DNA fingerprint of individual cancer cells is uncovering the true extent of cancer’s genetic diversity, and may present new scenarios for treatments.

They have used DNA sequencing to identify a panel of mutations present across thousands of cancer cells in three patients with leukaemia, before testing hundreds of individual cancer cells for each of the mutations to determine their genetic fingerprint and place them into cancer’s ‘family tree’.

And in a separate development, a new technique for engineering the human genome - and potentially correcting genetic defects in human cells - has been hailed as an exciting development by scientists.

The Crispr system, which is derived from bacteria, could make these ‘edits’ to people’s genetic make-up without creating new problems because of its accuracy, its advocates believe.

Adam Hill

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