An article, by Amemona Hartocollis, in The New York Times says major medical facilities in the United States are racing to build large cancer centres, armed with the latest computer technologies, which can sequence individual patient's genomes; one of the aims is to provide better, more directed cancer care.
Major academic medical centers in New York and around the country are spending and recruiting heavily in what has become an arms race within the war on cancer. The investments are based on the belief that the medical establishment is moving toward the routine sequencing of every patient’s genome in the quest for “precision medicine,” a course for prevention and treatment based on the special, even unique characteristics of the patient’s genes.
Among other projects, Harvard Medical School has its Center for Biomedical Informatics, which among a broad array of approaches uses mathematical modeling to predict when genetic information could lead to more effective treatment. Phoenix Children’s Hospital opened the Ronald A. Matricaria Institute of Molecular Medicine in December, recruiting researchers from Los Angeles and Baltimore and planning to sequence the genomes of 30 percent of their childhood cancer patients in their search for better therapies.
Johns Hopkins, with its focus on public health, wants to develop a “systematic genomic sequencing program” over the next two years that will combine genomic analysis with a patient’s environmental exposure, family history and other factors to support preventive medicine, said Scott Zeger, vice provost for research.
“There will be a moment in time when whole genome sequencing becomes ubiquitous throughout health care,” said Peter Tonellato, director of the Harvard personalized medicine lab and a clinical investigator in pathology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “Let’s say we figure out all the individuals who might have a cancer, and we can predict that with a relatively high level of accuracy. Then presumably we can take steps to avoid those, let’s say, decades of treatment.”
Sequencing an entire genome currently costs in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $10,000, not including the interpretation of the information. It is usually not reimbursed by insurance, which is more likely to cover tests for genetic mutations that are known to be responsive to drugs. The treatments themselves, which are sometimes covered, typically cost several times that.Even so, there is much promise in personal genome sequencing; and, accordingly, there is much work currently being done to reduce the cost to $1,000 at private centres. For that, individuals would receive their DNA code, but uninterrupted as to its meaning. That would cost more. But I can see a market around genomic sequencing developing, and as more companies enter the marketplace, the price for such services will fall. As a cancer patient currently undergoing chemotherpay, I find this possibility both encouraging and exciting.
In the near future, likely within five years, cancer patients will arrive with their DNA information, interpreted, on their electronic devices of choice or have it transmitted to both their physician and medical oncologist. Such knowledge, I suspect, will improve the medical treatments available to patients, and as such increase their lifespans. And this is always good news.
You can read the rest of the article at [NYT]