News story

Cancer patients join genome sequencing project

The first cancer patients have been recruited to the 100,000 Genomes Project, the DNA-sequencing project from Genomics England.

Close-up image of DNA

Cancer patients have joined those with rare diseases as part of the 100,000 Genomes Project, which aims to sequence 100,000 complete sets of DNA from 70,000 NHS patients.

By recruiting cancer patients, scientists will be able to build more detailed understanding of how their DNA affects their susceptibility to disease and response to treatment. As well as the potential to benefit patients in the UK, this could also help in the global fight against cancer.

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP said:

The recruitment of cancer patients is a significant milestone in the revolutionary 100,000 Genomes Project. It will help to unlock our understanding of the causes of this devastating condition, make the UK a leader in genetic research, and provide better diagnosis and more targeted treatment for thousands of NHS patients across the UK.

A test is performed on a cancer patient’s tumour, which is compared to healthy cells from a sample of blood and saliva. The testing happens alongside the normal care and involves a small sample of the tumour being analysed in much more detail by scientists.

As part of the project, scientists are conducting pioneering work to overcome the challenge of extracting enough DNA from the tumour that is of the right quality to be sequenced. This is a problem that no country has solved and underlines the UK’s position as a world-leader in research and cutting-edge medical technology.

As a whole, the 100,000 Genomes Project can give potentially vital information about some of the world’s rarest and most devastating diseases, which not only benefits patients but also their families.

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt said:

Genomics is the future of medicine and the sequencing of cancer DNA confirms why the UK is a global leader in this field. Over half a billion pounds has been invested in genomics to ensure that NHS patients continue to benefit from the prospect of better diagnosis and better treatments.

George Freeman also announced that:

  • there will be a £250 million commitment to genomics, which ensures the continued role of Genomics England to deliver the project, beyond the life of the project and up to 2021
  • the number of genomes sequenced as part of the project has now reached over 6,000

The project has already delivered its first successes, with children at Great Ormond Street Hospital recently receiving life-changing diagnoses.

Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, has also said that her annual report for 2016 will focus on genomics, addressing some of the emerging issues in the field. The report aims to build more public understanding and trust in this revolutionary form of medicine.

The 100,000 Genomes Project, which was launched by the Prime Minister in 2012, aims to better understand DNA and how it can predict and prevent disease, and launch a genomic medicines service in the NHS.

Published 21 January 2016