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DNA map cancer therapy is 'not science fiction'

Chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research Professor Alan Ashworth, comments on the Tumour Profiling Unit's research that will look at the use of DNA mapping in future cancer treatments:

None of this is science fiction. One would think in five or 10 years this will be absolutely routine practice for every cancer patient, and that's what we're aiming to bring about.

Genetic profiling of cancer is already being investigated at several laboratories around the world, but the new unit will pioneer its use in the clinic

'Mouse avatars' could be used in cancer therapy

The £3 million Tumour Profiling Unit (TPU) in London is to research the use of DNA mapping to identify patients' cancer strains. It is hoped the technique will pave the way for radical new forms of diagnosis, surveillance and targeted therapy.

One aim of the research is to develop "liquid biopsies" that search for free-floating cancer DNA in samples of blood. This can then be used to identify and monitor cancer sub-types that are likely to respond to particular drugs.

Another, controversial, proposal is the use of "mouse avatars" that mirror a patient's disease progression.

Tumour samples from patients will be implanted into mice which will then be observed closely to spot early signs of molecular change and resistance to therapy.

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DNA maps could hold key to future cancer treatments

A new laboratory could set the stage for a revolution in personalised cancer treatment in the coming decade, it has been claimed.

The £3 million Tumour Profiling Unit (TPU) in London aims to obtain the genetic map of an individual's tumours, enabling medical staff to give exactly the right drugs to tackle the disease.

Surgeons carry out an operation to remove a tumour from a patient at an NHS hospital. Credit: Andrew Parsons/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Scientists will also use state-of-the-art techniques to track cancers as they progress, mutate and develop resistance to drugs.

The work, due to start this year, is expected to pave the way for radical new forms of diagnosis, surveillance and targeted therapy.

Patient trials are envisaged that will not only provide personalised treatments but follow the molecular development of tumours over time and combat drug resistance.

Scientists encode Shakespeare sonnets into DNA

Scientists have encoded all of Shakespeare's sonnets into DNA in a bid to show how it could replace USB memory sticks and hard drives as a way of storing data.

Could DNA replace USB memory sticks and hard drives in the future?

The researchers artificially produced segments of the 'life molecule' - which contains all the information for human life - and added their own data.

As well as the sonnets, they encoded a 26-second snippet of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech, a photograph and a scientific paper.

The technique could be useful for long-term archiving since no electricity is required to store the data and just one gram of DNA can theoretically hold two petabytes of data - the equivalent of about a million one-gigabyte hard drives.

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What does the new DNA research show?

  • The genes that control the colour of your eyes, or your blood group, or anything else about you, make up only 2 per cent of the total.
  • Until recently large amounts of the human genetic code, or genome, were dismissed as "junk" - DNA sequences that had no function.
  • The findings show that around 80% of the genetic code is actively involved in keeping life going.

DNA breakthrough could help cure diseases

We're going to find out ways of helping us understand disease, avoid disease, prevent disease and perhaps cure disease in different ways from this, but I'm not going to be able to put my finger on this disease or that disease right now.

It's clinical researchers and doctors who are going to be the people who I think will benefit from this. I'm a kind of servant to that community of researchers.

– Dr Ewan Birney, chief analysis co-ordinator on the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements project

Research scraps theory of 'junk' DNA

Scientists have discovered that huge parts of our DNA - which were previously thought to have no obvious use - could in fact be essential in controlling genetic diseases.

So-called 'junk' DNA contains millions of 'switches' which can turn genes on or off. That could include controlling genes which lead to a hereditary diseases such as breast cancer or cystic fibrosis.

A research project has effectively scrapped the concept of "junk" DNA.

In the future, scientists hope the findings will lead to a deeper understanding of numerous diseases and help them devise more effective diagnostic tools and treatments.

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