Millions of NHS patients will get a free personalised health report based on their DNA to help them live longer, the Government has announced.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the move will flag which conditions people are at risk of getting before any symptoms appear.
This will then allow people to take preventative measures to stay healthier for longer, reducing the pressure on the NHS, ministers said.
The move is the latest in a string of projects announced as part of Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s planned digital revolution.
Mr Hancock has said the use of better tech ‘will make the NHS the best in the world’, having previously accused it of falling behind Tesco.
Five million volunteers will give their DNA to the Accelerating Detection of Disease (ADD) programme to receive a free personalised health report
Leading charities such as Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and Alzheimer’s Research UK are all funding the programme.
However, it is likely to fuel concerns about data safety, considering hackers have attempted to steal data from previous NHS genome projects.
Advancement in technology mean it is possible to combine genetic information into polygenic risk scores (PRS), which spot warning signs of disease.
Five million volunteers will give their DNA for the project, but it won’t be revealed until the autumn how they will be recruited.
They will have their genome analysed to identify risk of developing diseases like cancer or heart disease.
HACKERS TRIED TO STEAL GENETIC DATA FROM NHS STUDY
Foreign hackers made multiple attempts to steal the genetic details of thousands of NHS patients which are being guarded at a top-security military base.
Officials overseeing a project run by Genomics England hope to map the genes of more than a million NHS patients so they can be informed if they have any rare diseases.
But in December they revealed the project had successfully fended off a number of well-documented cyber-attacks including some ‘from overseas’.
The news, which follows the Wannacry attack that hit the NHS in 2017, will fuel concerns about the safety of the data.
Experts say it could be used to identify individual patients and potentially even blackmail them by exposing their sensitive health conditions.
Sir John Chisholm, Chair of Genomics England said: ‘A key feature of the project is that an individual’s data will not be released. Instead, de-identified data is analysed by research users within the secure, monitored environment.’
This could allow them to make lifestyle changes that will help prevent the disease diagnosis or reduce its severity.
The ‘fully anonymised’ data will then be used for research, expected to finish by by 2024, in order to develop a new wave of personalised treatments.
Professor Sir John Bell is leading the programme, named Accelerating Detection of Disease (ADD).
He said: ‘The ability to identify people at risk or suffering from early forms of disease with greater precision will have a profound impact on how we develop diagnostics and new ways to treat disease.’
Health Minister Nicola Blackwood said: ‘Prioritising life-saving research and innovation means we can unlock solutions to deadly conditions like cancer, dementia and heart disease – saving lives and securing the health of the next generation.
‘To achieve this we must harness the power of technology, so I am delighted with today’s investment from businesses and charities – a huge boost for healthcare innovation which will help patients lead longer, happier lives.’
ADD will receive investment worth up to £160million from charities, alongside a £79million from the Government.
Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘Alzheimer’s Research UK is delighted to play a part in this landmark cohort and harness this incredible resource to make breakthroughs possible for people with dementia.
‘Today, we diagnose dementia causing diseases after symptoms show, but to ensure people get the greatest benefit from future treatments, we must be able to diagnose them as soon as possible.
‘Alzheimer’s Research UK is working to revolutionise how diseases like Alzheimer’s are identified and uniting the best minds in digital data and technology to draw on the full potential of the Accelerating Detection of Disease cohort.’
Genome sequencing found its way into the public eye when, in December 2018, Genomics England completed their 100,000 Genomes Project.
Over the past six years, researchers have sequenced the DNA of 85,000 patients who had been diagnosed with either cancer or a rare disease.
Although everyone involved in the study was known to have an illness, around one in four people found out about other conditions they didn’t know about.
But foreign hackers have made multiple attempts to steal the genetic details, which are said to be guarded at a top-security military base.
It comes after health chiefs announced every sick child in England with mysterious conditions will have the chance to have their entire DNA mapped as of next year.
All youngsters admitted to intensive care in England with an unknown disorder will be offered a genome analysis from January.
The NHS will be the first in the world to offer the screening, also an option given to the parents of children, carried out via a blood sample.
There are fears that patients will regret learning they have or are likely to develop a terminal illness, and that the information could be misused by insurance companies.
DIAGNOSIS MADE ‘AMAZING’ DIFFERENCE TO GIRL WITH RARE DISEASE
The six-year-old daughter of Hana Young – Tilly – from Gosport in Hampshire, was part of the project and she and her parents all had their genomes sequenced.
Tilly was diagnosed with GAMT deficiency in January this year, which is a brain disorder affecting the nerves and muscles. It is not clear if she was diagnosed because of what experts found in her genome.
It has delayed her development, left her ‘severely’ mentally disabled, and she used to have hundreds of epileptic seizures a day.
Hana Young and her daughter Tilly, from Gosport in Hampshire, were both part of the 100,000 Genome Project, and Tilly was diagnosed in January with a rare genetic disorder
But since being diagnosed, treatment has made an ‘amazing’ difference to her life.
Ms Young told the BBC: ‘She used to be in and out of hospital and was often very aggressive towards her younger brother Arlo and others.
‘She lost the ability to walk and was having hundreds of seizures a day.’
But now, Ms Young said, the seizures are reduced and her daughter is livelier than ever.
Ms young said: ‘She is communicating, full of life, her epilepsy is gone and she is no longer violent.
‘Tilly is still severely mentally disabled but she is so much better than she would have been without the diagnosis.’