Wednesday 22 September 2021

Pressure mounts to make DNA screening available to cancer patients

Photo: Depositphotos.com

Pressure is mounting on caretaker health care minister Tamara van Ark to make state-of-the-art genome profiling more widely available to patients with metastatic cancer.

The technique, already in use at cancer hospital and research institute Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in Amsterdam, identifies genetic changes in tumour cells by means of whole genome sequencing (WGS). The resulting comprehensive picture of faults in the DNA enables doctors to devise and develop specific treatments.

It was thought several rounds of WGS would be needed to get a complete picture of the faulty DNA but researchers at the institute have found this is not the case, which makes the technique relatively cheap at €2,500 for a single test.

Head researcher Emile Voest said advanced diagnostic tools are vital for a new generation of cancer treatments. The finding brings the wider application of WGS that much closer, he told the Financieele Dagblad.

In February MPs, who feared ‘post code lottery treatment’, voted for a motion to include compensation for DNA screening for patients whose cancers are untreatable but who are still in good health.

The minister, acting on the advice of the Zorginstituut, which holds the purse strings, has not yet made a decision.

Over treatment

WGS will, however, save money as well by avoiding over treatment, Voest said and will also find more potential candidates for new medication. Biotechnology companies are increasingly producing medication which target a specific piece of the genetic code and that will produce more precise results and fewer side effects that, for instance, chemotherapy.

To develop this medication, more people need to show the same DNA defect. ‘Without WGS we would only identify four or five such patients a year while many more may have the same defect,’ Voest said.

A greater roll out of the technique will require a testing infrastructure, which Voest said, could be done by a few select centres.

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