NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – UK Prime Minister David Cameron today will announce a new initiative led by the National Health Service to sequence the genomes of up to 100,000 people and to use their genomic information in treatment and studies of cancer and other diseases.
The Prime Minister's Office said today that the government has set aside £100 million ($160.9 million) for the DNA mapping projects, which aims to train British geneticists and the healthcare community in using genome-based medicine. The funding also will help "pump-prime" DNA sequencing for researching and treating cancer and rare, inherited diseases, and to ramp up the NHS data infrastructure so that it can better use genomic data to treat patients.
"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," Cameron said in a statement preceding the announcement. "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."
UK Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies noted that single-gene testing is already available across the NHS for diagnosing cancers and assessing patients' risk of side effects from treatments.
"At the moment, these tests focus on diseases caused by changes in a single gene," she said. "This funding opens up the possibility of being able to look at the three billion DNA pieces in each of us so we can get a greater understanding of the complex relationship between our genes and lifestyle."
Minister for Science and Universities David Willetts said the £100 million to fund the NHS initiative will come from a new £600 million pot of money that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said last week will be added to the UK's planned research budget over the next three years.
The Prime Minister's Office said that the genome sequencing will be entirely voluntary. Patients will be able to opt out of the sequencing, and the DNA data will be anonymized except when it is used in the context of a patient's individual care.
The NHS will explore a number of ways to store the data, and it plans to make patient privacy and confidentiality an important factor in the decision about which platforms and technologies it will use.
Complete details of the new genome sequencing initiative and any partners in the project were not disclosed at the time of this publication.