A huge new investigation is due to be carried out some time in the near future into mapping the genetic sequences of cancer patients. The project is said to cost the government around £100million which will be carried out within the next three to five years. According to BBC News, this will be the first time a country will attempt to map the genetic sequences of around 100,000 patients.

Improving Treatments

The theory of ‘personalised medicine’ is one of the most promising ideas to arise in recent years regarding cancer treatment. By mapping an individuals entire genome, medical professionals can then distinguish why a particular drug works better in one individual than it does in another.

Targeted therapies do already exist, such as in breast cancer patients with the use of Herceptin. A test can be carried out to determine whether a tumour is ‘Her-2 positive’ by taking a biopsy of the tumour. The human epidermal growth factor receptor (Her-2) enables cancer cells to proliferate more than they normally would. If the tumour is indeed Her-2 positive then the use of Herceptin – or Trastuzumab to give it its proper name – can block these receptors and therefore dramatically reduce the growth of malignant tumour cells. A study carried out into its effectiveness produced one of the most ground-breaking set of results in recent years.

The introduction of trastuzumab to breast cancer treatment resulted in huge improvements in disease-free survival rates.
The introduction of trastuzumab to breast cancer treatment resulted in huge improvements in disease-free survival rates.

Further receptors are known to be responsible for cancerous capabilities for example progesterone receptor and the oestrogen receptor – both of which are grouped with Her-2 in the diagnosis of ‘triple negative’ breast cancer when all three are not present in breast tumours. Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is heavily linked with the formation of lung cancer as well as playing roles in other cancers. Much of the receptors can be found using simple single tests for the proteins but with the mapping of an entire genome sequence, a door is then opened to examine how a combination of therapies can be utilised to best suit the individuals lifestyle.

A Well Made Investment

Much of the targeted therapies that already exist are in the form of antibody treatments (the ‘mab’ at the end of a drug name signifying it as a monoclonal antibody) which are proven to have incredible effects when put into practice. A project then that can indicate a particular over-expression of receptors or proteins would only amplify our existing knowledge of personalised treatments. The hopeful theory is eventually to have the ability to produce a treatment plan for each individual, targeting certain proteins that only that patient expresses as opposed to blasting the body with toxic chemicals and hoping for the best – a practice that as explained in an earlier entry, ‘Bright lights on the horizon?’, is a thing of the past.

There is the usual opposition to mapping of any sort of an individuals genome claiming it to be an invasion of privacy. This is understandable and an entirely valid argument. I must say however that this kind of project has the potential to truly enlighten cancer treatment and if this is the case, then I’m sure the opposing parties should rather consider the people who have the chance at a much fuller life with fewer side effects than to worry about their own privacy.


The Sky News article called ‘DNA Mapping for Cancer Patients’: