The National Health Service (NHS) is to begin offering patients in England the opportunity to have their DNA sequenced – but for a price. The NHS will provide a report which will detail susceptibility to genetic diseases like Alzheimer's and Huntington's to those who take part, but only if they also consent to share their information with the Department of Health-owned Genomic England.
Genomic England was initially funded by the NHS to complete the 100,000 Genomes Project. The project's objective was to sequence 100,000 whole genomes "from NHS patients with rare diseases, and their families, as well as patients with common cancers". The original target of 100,000 was reached in December 2018 and now the government has raised the body's target to one million whole genomes sequenced within the next five years.
The project has received some criticism as NHS services are usually free at point of delivery. British Society for Genetic Medicine chairwoman Dr Anneke Lucassen voiced her worry that the new paid for service "has the potential to create a two-tier system".
She further warned about the effectivity of the program for the patients involved, saying, "you can use genetic code to confirm a clinical picture, but you can't use it to predict what will happen in the future very accurately".
However, she along with many others agree that the project is important, as larger the genomic library the body is able to build, the better equipped it and other international bodies will be to understand genomes better which, according to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, "will benefit everyone in the future".
"While healthy people should not have this service free on the NHS, there are huge benefits to sequencing as many genomes as we can," explained Hancock. "Every genome sequenced moves us a step closer to unlocking life-saving treatments."