NHS Gaps Stall Benefits of Genomic Data for U.K. Health Care

(Bloomberg) -- Gaps in the National Health Service are stalling the use of genetic information that could benefit U.K. patients with cancer and other conditions, according to a government report.

Lack of communication between databases and DNA test result records that are sometimes still kept on paper inhibit collection of information that could help improve diagnosis, treatment and understanding of diseases, according to the paper from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.

The U.K. is among the most advanced countries in applying genomics -- studies of the entire human DNA sequence -- in health care, the study said. Yet decoding of patients’ entire genome still has to prove itself in medical care, and the NHS faces infrastructure and staffing obstacles, along with ethical concerns, that must be resolved before the technology can deliver on its potential, according to the committee’s report.

“We are concerned that this potential is threatened by delays in the NHS’s digital projects, reduced genomics training budgets, and potential public concerns over sharing personal health data,” said Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democratic member of Parliament who is chairman of the committee, in a statement.

The genome, the chemical code inside each cell that determines its behavior and structure, plays a key role in inherited conditions, predisposition to acquired illnesses like infections and heart disease, as well as cancer. The 100,000 Genomes Project, a program of Genomics England, was set up to collect and decipher human DNA to better understand health and disease, and has helped make the U.K. a leader in the study of this aspect of biology, according to the report.

The NHS has been strapped for cash, which has impeded research and clinical operations. However, its vast trove of clinical data extends throughout the U.K., and the agency may be in a position to charge for use of its information, according to the statement. That would give it a source of income that can be reinvested and benefit patients in the long term.

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