Genetics dream: Personalised medicine for everyone

Book of you: The letters from just one human genome would fill a stack of paperbacks over 60 metres tall.

Britain’s chief medical officer wants doctors in the NHS to start using genome sequencing. This technology could work out why someone is unwell, and how to make them better. Is it a good idea?

What’s happening

When you see a doctor, you tell them what is wrong. They use years of training to decide what illness you have. If they still do not know, you have tests. Eventually, they choose from thousands of treatments, hoping one will work.

Sally Davies, Britain’s chief medical officer, does not like those odds.

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It took 13 years and up to $1 billion to sequence the first human genome. Now, it takes around $1,000 and a single day.

For now, personalised medicine is only for people who already have diseases. Davies wants doctors to start using genome sequencing to personalise medicine for everyone. She argues patients would be more likely to get the right treatment.

Over 31,000 patients have already had their genome sequenced by the NHS. This could be because they needed to identify a rare disease or find medicine with a higher chance of working.

When a big change happens in science or medicine doctors and experts can form very different opinions. Particularly when it involves storing personal information. With personalised medicine, who is right?

Some say…

“This is a terrible idea!” say some. This would mean everyone had their entire genetic makeup saved on a file somewhere. Phil Booth, from MedConfidential, said there were huge risks involved. Even if doctors keep it private, it may fall into the wrong hands. The only way to keep this data safe is to avoid doing genome sequencing in the first place.

Others think…

“This is a genius idea!” say others. Why leave your health to chance? Patients should allow their health data to be shared. More information will help doctors diagnose illnesses correctly. Personalised medicine would be amazing for patients, doctors and hospitals. With less time wasted, healthcare would be cheaper, faster, and more effective.

You Decide

  1. Would you want to find out the secrets of your own DNA?

Activities

  1. Watch this animation from TedEd on how the human genome is drawn. Make a poster that explains what genes are, and what they do.

Some People Say...

“We all worry too much about our privacy.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

Treatments
Drugs, therapies or operations to make someone well again.
Genome
Made from our genes. Genes are bits of DNA code that send instructions to every cell in our body to tell them how they should work.
Genome sequencing
Writing out all our genes so doctors can look through, and spot any errors. Errors in our genes can lead to different types of illnesses.
Risks
Earlier this year, the NHS suffered a massive cyber attack. If information on our entire human genome were hacked, this would seriously breach our right to privacy.

Subjects

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