Monday 10 December 2012

The Prime Minister in Genomics

Today the Primer Minister of the UK, David Cameron, visited the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute and my lab!

L-R: Fatimah, Hannah, Claire, Sarah, James Brenton, David Cameron (holding a MiSeq flowcell) and me!

We had only a little warning he was coming and had to quickly book instruments so we could turn them off. Most genomics equipment makes too much noise for the TV cameras. There were several people in the party which was split into two groups: David Cameron was accompanied by; David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, the Government's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies and the life Sciences ‘Tsar, George Freeman MP (my MP back at home). The visit was hosted by: Professor Sir Bruce Ponder, Director of CRI, Dr Harpal Kumar, CEO, CRUK and Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University. Also in attendance was my boss.

It was a little nerve wracking having my boss, his boss and his bosses boss standing by while I was talking to the countries boss. To many chiefs in the Genomics core.

Why were they here: The UK Government announced a new initiative to invest in medical genome sciences today. Up to 100,000 UK patients will have their DNA sequenced (partially or fully ) as part of a drive to revolutionise NHS treatment with £100m being earmarked for training genetic scientists, mapping patients' DNA, and creating systems for handling the information. The hope is that this investment will help to drive costs down to the point that sequencing can be a normal NHS test.

Science minister David Willetts said “Life sciences is one of the most truly international sectors - so if we are to continue to be a world player and compete in the global race we must do everything we can to support it.”

In the press release they make on small faux pas stating that patient genome data will be anonymised before it is stored. You can’t anonymise someones genome without removing a the interesting content. I think we’ll all end up being much more comfortable with relatively open access to our data. If the EU carry on with their equality agenda then qwe’ll all end up paying the same for health insurance anyway.

The Primer Minster David Cameron said “this new plan will mean we are the first country in the world to use DNA codes in the mainstream of the health service. If we get this right, we could transform how we diagnose and treat our most complex diseases not only here but across the world, while enabling our best scientists to discover the next wonder drug or breakthrough technology.”

He is absolutely right about this kind of investment helping to lead to the next breakthrough. I tired to press home the point that the technology he was seeing in my lab came from research just down the road in Shankar Balasubramanian’s lab in the University of Cambridge Department of Chemistry.

Sally Davies, the Government's Chief Medical Officer said "this funding opens up the possibility of being able to look at the three billion DNA pieces in each of us so we can get a greater understanding of the complex relationship between our genes and lifestyle."

CRUK has been working hard on personalising cancer medicine with the Stratified Medicines Initiative. About 9,000 people with breast, bowel, lung, prostate, ovary or melanoma cancer will have their genomes seqeunced for key cancer drivers.

How easy is it to sequence a genome today? One of the questions I was asked by the Prime Minister was how easy is it to sequence a genome today. I had to give a very brief explanation of what we do and the best way to demonstrate how easy it is was to ask him to start a MiSeq run. We prepared a cartridge and flowcell ready to go. The Prime Minister took the sample through the set u screen, waited for the flow check and kicked of the run by pressing start.

It's not only three year olds that can sequence genomes, even political leaders can do it. And at least David Cameron was wearing a lab coat!

PS: Unfortunately it does not look like this is new money so the £100M may be coming from somewhere else in the NHS. It could turn out to be a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul. However in the current economic climate finding new money anywhere is tough.


  1. Just with regards your PS: David Willetts said:

    “I am announcing today that we are committing a further £100 million to support this sector out of the extra money for science announced by the chancellor in his Autumn Statement”

    Of course, it all comes out of the same pot ...

  2. Good to know that Primer Minister of the UK, David Cameron, visited the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute and has announced a new initiative to invest in medical genome sciences.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.