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Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

What is Genomic Medicine?

by Nick Perkins

Personalised medicine is a move away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the treatment and care of patients with a particular condition and moves us towards bespoke treatment for each patient because we are all made differently. One of the tools that the medical profession can use to help tailor treatment is genomic medicine. This is defined as “a medical discipline that involves using genomic information about an individual as part of their clinical care”.    

The words ‘genomic informationrefer to an individual’s genome – which is an organism’s (in this case humans’) complete set of DNA. DNA is the bio-chemical instruction manual that a living being needs to grow, reproduce and function.

Short sections of DNA are called genes. Genes carry information for particular characteristics, such as ear shape or eye colour etc. All of an organism’s genes looked at together are referred to as a genome. Essentially, a gene can be thought of as a single puzzle piece, whilst a genome is the complete jigsaw for a particular individual.

Having this whole picture allows clinicians to make accurate predictions and decisions, about how a particular tumour type will affect an individual patient or which therapy will be most beneficial. It also allows researchers, such as those in Brain Tumour Research’s Centres of Excellence, to identify new generation drugs to target certain genomic mutations (where a cell(s) isn’t working properly) that will result in more targeted treatments with fewer detrimental side effects.

As part of the NHS Long-Term Plan, all children with cancer in England will be offered whole genome testing. This is a welcome development, as a significant number of children are diagnosed with a brain tumour every year. Another relevant area for brain tumour patients, both child and adult, is ensuring that a sample which is suitable for genomic testing is collected, and stored correctly, after a patient has had a biopsy of their tumour.  

Over the coming months Brain Tumour Research will be working with the NHS, Genomics England and other cancer charities to help embed genomic medicine into cancer care, and in particular for brain tumour patients. We will keep you updated with any developments. 

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