Bio & Life Sciences

A Cancer Genomics Arms Race Is Underway

Supercomputers and DNA sequencing instruments are the weapons of choice in an “arms race within the war on cancer,” which the New York Times describes today:

“The investments are based on the belief that the medical establishment is moving toward the routine sequencing of every patient’s genome in the quest for ‘precision medicine,’ a course for prevention and treatment based on the special, even unique characteristics of the patient’s genes.”

HiSeq2500-M

Illumina HiSeq 2500/1500 DNA sequencer

Medical centers in New York City alone are reportedly spending more than $1 billion on building, equipping, and staffing new genomic research centers. Several hospitals around the country are undertaking systematic genomic sequencing of patients, Mount Sinai Medical Center has gotten agreement from 24,000 patients to “participate in DNA sequencing and research over their lifetimes,” and “Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center sequenced 16,000 tumors last year, mainly in lung cancer patients,” the Times reports.

One Times source, a Harvard researcher, predicts a day when “whole genome sequencing becomes ubiquitous throughout health care.” Another, also at Harvard, points out that the lack of actionable data that can be derived from patients’ genomes might make current investments in sequencing cancer genomes premature.

But his comparison of genomic information available now to what was available via the first internet search implies that in 20 years we will have more DNA data at our fingertips than we know what to do with.

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