Advances in DNA technology mean that DNA tests can now be used in assessing the likelihood of cancer in individuals, resulting in the saving of thousands of lives.

New medical advances from genetic and cancer research, now show that in the near future a DNA test predicting the likelihood of prostate cancer, will be available for all men. By assessing the risks and monitoring such cases, doctors will be able to catch the disease in its early stages, thus saving thousands of lives.

Currently, in the UK, some 10,000 men per annum die from prostate cancer. In many cases, if detected early, prostate cancer can be easily treated, however, a large majority of men neglect their health and avoid uncomfortable tests, thus allowing the cancer to gain strength and become more aggressive.

Once this DNA test is available, it will be simple to test all men and then alert those prone to the disease. Regular tests will result in early detection, possibly saving the lives of thousands of men every year.

DNA Tests – Analysis of the Genome

A team of US scientists, researching a case of a woman who died of leukaemia, have managed to map her genome and identified the 10 genetic mutations of the cancer that killed her. By taking samples of both healthy and tumor cells from her body, they then sequenced the DNA within each sample.

They were able to identify 100,000 genetic changes, present in the tumor, but not in the normal healthy DNA. From this long list, they then isolated the 10 mutations they believed to be causing the cancer.

Still in its early stages, this study is the first to use genome sequencing in identifying cancer gene mutations and follows on from the work of the Human Genome Project.

The Human Genome Project (HGP)

In 1990, an international scientific project led by James D. Watson at the US National Institutes of Health began. Its primary focus was to determine the sequence of chemical base pairs, which make up DNA and to identify and map the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes of the human genome from both a physical and functional standpoint.

The team released a working draft of their work in 2000 and followed this up in 2003 with their complete draft. Further analysis is still being published, with many spin-off research projects following. Most government-sponsored sequencing research is being performed in universities and research centres in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Britain. The mapping of human genes is an important step in the development of medicines and other aspects of health care as highlighted in the cancer cases above.

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