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James Peach, Director, Cancer Research UK Stratified Medicine programme: Many of the next generation of cancer treatments will only work in people whose cancer is driven by a particular gene or protein.

We need ways to routinely group, or ‘stratify’ patients as part of their treatment. Cancer Research UK’s Stratified Medicine programme aims to help the NHS prepare for this exciting new way of treating cancer, and provide researchers with intelligence about how treatments work

Voiceover: Launched in 2011, Cancer Research UK’s stratified medicine programme will operate from 7 clinical centres and 3 genetic technology centres across the UK.

St James’s University Hospital, in partnership with the University of Leeds, is one of these clinical centres. Here, patients with a range of cancers are asked if they want to take part in the programme. The programme is initially focusing on people with breast, bowel, prostate, lung, and ovarian cancer, and melanoma.

If they agree, a sample of their blood is taken, the DNA extracted, and stored for later analysis.  This gives researchers a sample of ‘normal’ DNA as a reference.

After the cancer patient has had surgery or a biopsy, a tissue sample is sent to the hospital’s pathology lab, where it will be specially treated to protect the DNA inside.

The tissue sample is sliced into wafer thin sections, which are rolled up and placed into a plastic tube. Then they are sent off for genetic analysis to the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden hospital’s joint laboratory in Sutton – Leeds’s technology partner in the programme.

Here, the DNA is extracted from the sample and then run through powerful DNA sequencing machines to read each tumour’s unique genetic code.

Information about key mutations in the tumour is sent electronically back to Leeds, where it’s linked to the patient’s medical records. This information is also stored in a central database to help guide future research.

Although this won’t influence the way the patient is treated – at least in the short term – the resulting data will be absolutely vital to allow doctors and researchers to improve the way patients are treated in the future. So tomorrow’s cancer patients will benefit from the results of today’s research.

James Peach: It’s absolutely vital that the NHS starts thinking about how genetically stratified treatment will work in practice. Our programme aims to enlist around 9,000 patients to help us make genetic testing a routine part of NHS practice, as well as providing an unprecedented source of data for researchers, to help them beat cancer

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