In Brief

How routine DNA testing will help improve NHS treatment

New era of genomic health to offer patients more individualised treatment

The NHS is set to become the first health service in the world to routinely offer DNA tests, marking a big step towards more efficient treatment tailored to individuals.

From 1 October, “hospitals across England will be connected to specialist centres that read, analyse and interpret patient DNA to help diagnose rare diseases, match patients to the most effective treatments, and reduce adverse drug reactions”, reports The Guardian.

Under the new service, people with cancer will routinely have tumour DNA screened for key mutations in order to help doctors work out which drugs to give the patient and whether they might benefit from taking part in clinical trials of experimental therapies. 

“Beyond its aim to bring patients the most effective treatments faster, the service is expected to generate a wealth of data on the interplay between DNA, health and lifestyles, which will become a powerful tool for research into cancer and other diseases,” says the newspaper.

Mark Caulfield, chief scientist at Genomic England and professor of cardiovascular genetics at the William Harvey Research Institute in London, said: “We are ushering in a new era of genomic health. This is a big step and it grows over the new two years. It’s a total transformation.”

Genomics England, a company formed by the Department of Health in 2013, has already set up seven genomic hubs across the country to deliver DNA tests on cancer, rare diseases and other conditions. The service will be offered in England initially, but could potentially be rolled out across the UK.

Further DNA tests under development could help identify patients who may have bad reactions to certain drugs, and to reveal the risk of severe early onset diseases such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and dementia.

“Research is ongoing into genetic tests that can be combined with other medical information to highlight patients most at risk of diseases such as breast cancer, diabetes and hypertension,” The Guardian adds.

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