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Babies will get blood tests to see if they have rare childhood cancers under major new screening drive being trialed on NHS

  • Babies will be tested for rare cancers as part of major screening programme
  • Simple blood test will speed up diagnosis and treatment for thousands of babies
  • Experts say it has the potential to help 3,000 children a year if rolled out
  • Donate to the Mail’s and CRUK’s Fighting To Beat Children’s Cancer campaign 

Babies will be tested for rare childhood cancers as part of major new screening programme being trialled on the NHS.

The simple blood test, which looks for genetic faults in a patient’s DNA, will speed up diagnosis and treatment for thousands of babies born with rare diseases every year.

Experts say it has the potential to help 3,000 children a year if rolled out, helping many young patients before symptoms appear.

Some 100, frumil cheap 000 babies will be screened for around 200 treatable diseases over the next two years.

Babies will be tested for rare childhood cancers in new NHS programme (stock image)

The simple blood test, which looks for genetic faults in a patient’s DNA, will speed up diagnosis and treatment for thousands of babies born with rare diseases every year

If a condition is identified, the baby would undergo further tests to confirm the diagnosis before receiving treatment.

The project forms part of a £175million boost to ‘cutting-edge genomics research’ announced by Department of Health and Social Care, including £26million to improve the accuracy and speed of cancer diagnoses.

The announcement comes a week after the Daily Mail launched its Fighting to Beat Children’s Cancer campaign, in partnership with Cancer Research UK.

Steve Barclay said he hoped the genomics research would affirm the UK’s position as ‘a life sciences superpower’.

What IS whole genome sequencing? 

Whole genome sequencing allows researchers to read all the little bits of code that make us who we are.

The human genome is composed of more than three billion pairs of building-block molecules and grouped into some 25,000 genes.

It contains the codes and instructions that tell the body how to grow and develop, but flaws in the instructions can lead to disease.

Many argue giving patients the blood tests will allow doctors to spot rare diseases caused by genetic mutations.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron set-up a project to sequence 100,000 genomes for NHS patients with a known rare disease or cancer.

Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies wants to set up a central genetic database within the next five years to aid research.

She said genetic testing should become as routine as an MRI scan, although patients would have the opportunity to opt out.

The first decoding of a human genome – completed in 2003 as part of the Human Genome Project – took 15 years and cost £2.15 billion ($3bn).

Scientists have been using genomics to unlock the secrets of our DNA for several years he said, helping to develop cutting edge treatments for some of the country’s biggest healthcare challenges, including cancer.

The Health Secretary said: ‘Today we’re announcing over £175million in new genomics funding to ensure a better quality of life for patients, affirming the UK’s position as a life sciences superpower.

‘This includes £26million to use the power of genomics to transform outcomes for cancer patients.

‘The investment will help test cutting-edge technology to improve both the accuracy and speed of diagnosis, leading to quicker and more targeted treatments for those suffering from this vicious disease.

‘We need to harness this innovation to improve care for patients and I welcome the Mail’s new campaign to help beat children’s cancer.’

Around one in 200 children are born with a treatable genetic condition, including retinoblastoma – a cancer of the eye.

If picked up early, retinoblastoma can often be successfully treated with more than nine in 10 children with the condition cured.

Starting early next year, expectant parents will be asked to participate with samples taken shortly after the babies are born, alongside the heel prick blood test which is used to detect nine rare but serious health conditions, including sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis.

Screening a baby’s entire genome – all of their DNA – could detect hundreds more rare, treatable diseases in their first years of life.

Dr Rich Scott, chief medical officer for Genomics England, said: ‘Our goal in the Newborn Genomes Programme is to do more for the thousands of children born every year in the UK with a treatable genetic condition.

‘We want to be able to offer speedy diagnosis, quicker access to treatment, and better outcomes and quality of life.

‘We want to be able to say to parents that we’ve done the best we can to identify and do something about these life-changing illnesses, in a timely way before the damage these conditions can cause has been done.’

The blood test looks for genetic faults in a patient’s DNA (stock image)

Steve Barclay hopesd the research will affirm UK’s position as ‘a life sciences superpower’

Earlier this year, NHS England revealed it was rolling out whole genome sequencing for babies showing signs of being seriously unwell.

But this will be the first time the technique has been used on apparently healthy babies, leading some to question the ethics.

At the end of the trial, policymakers will decide if whole genome sequencing should be rolled out as part of a future newborn screening programme.

Concerns have been raised over the potential medical implications for parents and their extended family as well as the potential to flag non-paternity.

Others are worried it could see people opt out of screening altogether, which could see some babies lose diagnoses they would have had.

Some 100,000 babies will be screened for around 200 treatable diseases (stock image)

Frances Flinter, Professor of Clinical Genetics at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said it was ‘a step into the unknown.’

‘Getting the balance of benefit and harm right will be crucial,’ he said, adding: ‘We must not race to use this technology before both the science and ethics are ready.’

Genomic sequencing technology will also be used in a bid to improve the accuracy and speed of diagnosis for cancer patients.

Doctors will use artificial intelligence to analyse a person’s DNA, alongside other information such as routine scans.

A further £22million will sequence the genomes of up to 25,000 research participants of non-European ancestry who are currently under-represented in genomic research.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England National Medical Director, said the NHS was already ‘transforming the lives of thousands of patients with cancer and rare diseases’ through genomic medicine.

He added: ‘This project has the potential to provide yet more powerful tools for NHS teams as they work to save lives and improve life chances for patients, alongside the testing and treatment options that the genomics programme has already provided.’

In other related news…

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‘I’m proud to support this excellent campaign’: Rishi Sunak hails Mail drive to tackle children’s cancer

The UK treatment revolution which is taking the agony out of cancer for children… and how Cancer Research UK-funded drug trials could spare brave young patients like Holly, 8, from debilitating lifelong side effects of chemotherapy

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