Experts: Britain's NHS must build genetic testing infrastructure

Britain's National Health Service must take a larger role in helping the country exploit advances in genetic sequencing and DNA testing in order for care in the U.K. to modernize, experts argue.

As The Guardian newspaper reports, observers want the NHS to step up because it handles diagnosis and treatment for an enormous number of patients in the country. Its involvement, they say, can help create processes to handle and interpret genetic data that could enable advances such as whole genome sequencing to become a part of routine health care.

"What we should be doing in an organization like the NHS is collecting that [genetic] information," Mike Stratton, director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and joint head of the cancer genome project, told The Guardian. "In the next 10 to 20 years the rollout of all these technologies is going to be accelerating. We need to think about how we are going to retrieve this information for research purposes."

The opportunities are enormous, experts such as Oxford University's Sir John Bell note in the story. Part of the reason: Whole genome sequencing is becoming substantially cheaper and will soon be as cost-effective as doing one or two separate genetic tests.

But, Bell and others note, plenty of gaps need to be filled, such as how to develop proper data analysis of whole genomes or concoct clinical informatics to help make standard use of the tests feasible, so providers can use the results on an everyday basis to advance care. Britain could lead in the space, he said, if that work can be accomplished.

And the NHS could play a role in advancing that by developing healthcare infrastructure to enable the regular use of whole genome sequencing, both for patients and medical research, Nazneen Rahman, professor of genetics at the Institute of Cancer Research, argued in the story. Stratton himself notes that the NHS can move the technology forward by encouraging more regular use of existing genetic tests, such as those that can help determine a cancer tumor's vulnerability to specific drugs.

- read The Guardian's story

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