Dr Anna Schuh, who heads the BRC Molecular Diagnostics Centre and is a consultant haematologist at Oxford University Hospitals, adds: 'Patients like the idea of a test that can predict and say up front whether they will respond to an otherwise toxic treatment. What the patient sees is no different from present. A biopsy is taken from the patient's tumour for genetic testing with a consultant talking through the results a few days later. It is part of the normal diagnostic process.'
Cancer is often described as a genetic disease, since the transition a cell goes through in becoming cancerous tends to be driven by changes to the cell's DNA. And increasingly, new cancer drugs depend on knowing whether a mutation in a single gene is present in a patient's cancer cells.
For example, a lung cancer patient may have a biopsy taken to check for changes in the EGFR gene. If there is a mutation, the patient may then be treated with a drug that works as an EGFR inhibitor. If there is no mutation, such drugs won't work and the patient would get a different drug that would be more effective for them. Knowing the presence or absence of mutations in a certain gene can choose the treatment path for that patient.
The NHS can currently test for mutations in 2 or 3 genes genes called BRAF, EGFR or KRAS using older sequencing technology that has been around for decades. Efforts are being made to look at increasing the number of cancer genes sequenced to nine as standard.
The Oxford scientists are the first to make such multi-gene tests possible in the NHS using the latest DNA sequencing techniques. The NHS service they have launched looks for mutations in 46 genes, and they are now working
|Contact: Press Office|
University of Oxford