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Landmark national study supports use of whole genome sequencing in standard cancer care

By January 17, 2024No Comments

In the largest study of its kind, scientists report how combining health data with whole genome sequence (WGS) data in patients with cancer can help doctors provide more tailored care for their patients.

The research, published in Nature Medicine, shows that linking WGS data to real-world clinical data can identify changes in cancer DNA that may be relevant for an individual patient’s care, for example by helping identify what treatment might work best for them based on their cancer.

The study, led by Genomics England, NHS England, Queen Mary University of London, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Westminster, analysed data covering over 30 types of solid tumours collected from more than 13,000 participants with cancer in the 100,000 Genomes Project.

By looking at the genomic data alongside routine clinical data collected from participants over a 5-year period, such as hospital visits and the type of treatment they received, scientists were able to find specific genetic changes in the cancer associated with better or worse survival rates and improved patient outcomes.

The study showed that WGS could provide a more comprehensive view of a tumour’s genetic landscape by detecting various genetic changes using a single test. This research uncovered significant findings across different cancer types, such as:

  • Over 90% of brain tumours and over 50% of colon and lung cancers showed genetic changes that could affect how patients are treated, guiding decisions about surgery or specific treatments they might need.
  • In more than 10% of sarcomas, larger DNA changes, known as structural variants, were identified that can impact clinical care and treatment.
  • In over 10% of ovarian cancers, the study pinpointed inherited risks offering crucial insights for clinical care.

The analysis also revealed patterns across several cancers and uncovered different types of genetic changes that might explain response to treatment or predict possible patient outcomes. Together, the findings show the value of combining genomic and clinical data at scale to help healthcare professionals make the best treatment decisions with their patients.

WGS allows the reading of someone’s entire genome – the 3.2 billion letters that make up our DNA – with just one single test. For patients with cancer, this technique can be used to compare DNA from their tumour to the DNA in their healthy tissues.

The 100,000 Genomes Project laid the foundations for the NHS to become the first national health system to offer WGS as part of routine care via the NHS Genomic Medicine Service. This study shows the value of investment in national infrastructure to generate clinical and genomic data at scale on patients and participants who consent to research in an NHS setting – allowing researchers to uncover insights to drive improved diagnosis, care and treatment for patients with cancer.

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