Genetic Testing Pilot Program To Begin In The UK
May 21, 2013

Pilot Program To Perform Genetic Testing For Breast, Ovarian Cancers

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

As part of a public-private collaboration, a UK-based charitable foundation has announced a pilot program to genetically test patients for breast and ovarian cancer.

“Recent advances in methods for reading the genetic code, known as sequencing, mean that looking for gene mutations is now faster and more affordable than ever before,” according to a statement from the Wellcome Trust. “There is now an opportunity to transform cancer gene testing and to improve the health outcomes of many people with cancer and their families.”

Developed by Illumina Inc., the test is designed to analyze 97 cancer-associated genes within a few weeks for only a few hundred dollars. It is scheduled to be introduced in 2014 in London´s Royal Marsden hospitals and, if successful, rolled out to the rest of the UK through the National Health Service (NHS).

"It is very important to know if a mutation in a person's genetic blueprint has caused their cancer,” explained Dr. Nazneen Rahman, a genetics leader at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Cancer Genetics Clinical Unit at The Royal Marsden. “It allows more personalized treatment, so for example such people are often at risk of getting another cancer and may choose to have more comprehensive surgery, or may need different medicines, or extra monitoring.”

"It also improves the information available for relatives about their own cancer risks,” she added. “Sometimes a relative is found to also have an increased risk of cancer, and screening or preventative measures can be employed. Just as frequently, testing provides the reassuring news that a relative is not at increased risk of cancer and does not need interventions."

Approximately 2 percent of all cancers develop because of a mutation in a particular gene, such as the BRCA1 mutation that prompted actress Angelina Jolie to have a double mastectomy.

After the genetic information is culled from a patient´s DNA sample, it needs to be analyzed for crucial mutations.

"Analyzing genetic data and understanding how mutations actually affect a person is hugely complex,” said Peter Donnelly, Head of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford. “A real strength of this program is that the analysts are working directly with the people in the lab generating the data and the doctors that need to use it.”

The Wellcome Trust also proposes that genetic testing can be done as a routine part of cancer treatment. In the proposed method, genetic testing in cancer patients would be done by oncologists, while testing in people without cancer would be done only by geneticists.

"Many people with cancer are keen to have a gene test as soon as possible to help doctors plan the best treatment for them,” Rahman said. “The complex decision-making that people without cancer have to consider before having a test often doesn't apply.”

"Patients are also increasingly aware of the value of genetic testing and more and more patients are requesting testing,” added Martin Gore, Medical Director of the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

According to Bloomberg, the Illumina test is more affordable than other currently available options that typically cost thousands of dollars.