Personalised Medicine Centre launches at St Anne’s

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A new Centre for Personalised Medicine has been launched in Oxford. The project is based on a partnership between St Anne’s College and the Wellcome Trust’s Centre for Human Genetics, and introduces the growing biomedical field to Oxford University.

Personalised medicine is described as ‘the ability to determine molecular and genetic variation between individuals,’ and the application of this knowledge in the ‘diagnosis, prognosis and treatment’ of disease. It often involves sequencing an individual’s genes and

The centre was launched on Saturday with an exciting event involving speakers explaining why personalised medicine was a growing field, why it’s important and the dangers associated with it.

The discussion, involving Dame Mary Archer, former Chair of Cambridge University Hospitals Trust, and research staff from the Wellcome Trust, explored the potential benefits of Personalised Medicine. Genetic sequencing is already used in the treatment of some disease – for instance the identity of the genes linked to breast cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2) has already guided many patients to decide on preventative treatments such as mastectomies.

However, it is thought that personalised medicine can go further than identifying genes directly associated with disease. Pharmacogenomics is an exciting new field in which the effects of treatments can be maximised. Currently, there is variation in how drugs effect patients differently based on their genetic makeup, and some medications can even be potentially harmful. It is hoped that by identifying a patient’s genes, clinicians can ensure that the drugs they prescribe are both effective and safe.

Undergraduates and tutors alike were engaged by the event. One biochemistry student, Oliver Adams, spoke of how ‘the evening demonstrated the clinical value of the integration of genomic sequencing and analysis techniques; whilst not forgetting to highlight the ethical, technical and economic barriers.’ The entire audience appeared engaged and were keen to question the speakers, with the event showing promise for the popularity of the new centre.

But the speakers also acknowledged the dangers associated with the field of Personalised Medicine. Dr Tim Lancaster, Director of Clinical Studies at Oxford, spoke of the need for medical students to be trained in dealing with the challenges that genetic counselling presents. Another clinician seemed sceptical that patients would ‘pay attention’ to the new information that personalised medicine could provide.

Dr Chris Spencer, a Wellcome Trust statistician, highlighted that anyone can have their genome sequenced cheaply by a variety of online companies. Yet no clinical training is needed in order to offer this service, and there are worries that the data is being presented to patients in an inaccurate or misleading way.

There were also concerns around the ethical implications of Personalised Medicine, with fears expressed about the cost of new treatments, and whether the field will be limited to the wealthiest patients. Furthermore, issues were raised over whether insurance companies will start using genetic data to vary the cost of premiums. Currently all that prevents UK businesses doing so is a voluntary agreement, and it is clear that this is an issue that legislators will soon have to confront.

Nonetheless, the Centre of Personalised Medicine promises to provide much needed research to a growing field and the challenges that come with it. Researchers expect it to provide many of the medical discoveries in the near future, and personalised medicine certainly has the potential to revolutionise medicine.

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