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Top CMO pushes for routine genome screening on NHS

Published on 04/07/17 at 09:35am

England’s top Chief Medical Officer has called for routine DNA testing to become standard on the NHS in a bid to improve patient care. Professor Dame Sally Davies has said she wants to see whole genome screening (WGS) utilised in a manner similar to blood testing or biopsies so that treatments can be personalised and unnecessary therapies avoided.

"I want the NHS across the whole breadth to be offering genomic medicine - that means diagnosis of our genes - to patients where they can possibly benefit," her annual report reads.

Where failures in one or more of the body’s 20,000 genes cause disorders and illnesses, WGS – a £700 procedure – can help identify these failures by cross-referencing tumour samples with normal DNA samples and help personalise and improve treatment in around two-thirds of cases. This means that adequate therapies can be selected based on genetic profile, and those treatments which provide no benefit can be avoided, preventing potentially harmful side-effects.

According to Davies, the areas where this could be most beneficial are cancer, rare disease and infection, and could help to speed diagnosis times. Patients could have this data stored securely by the NHS, preserving their privacy. More than 31,000 have already had their entire genetic code sequenced and stored.

Davies noted that this all must be delivered in the next five years, but also described the current environment as a “cottage industry”; currently, WGS is performed at one of 25 regional laboratories through England, but centralised labs could make this a reality.

Matt Fellows

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