Digital Transformation

Government wants DNA database to beat cancer – but could it be a data disaster?

The government will have to be careful with its data protection if it is to roll out a new DNA database.

The government has said it is eager to create a national database of DNA in a bid to better understand and beat diseases like cancer.

Its proposed project would see 100,000 patients having their genomes fully mapped out and stored so doctors can see how their bodies respond to different diseases.

This would hopefully lead to new treatments being developed by the NHS and would cost an estimated £100 million.

Prime minister David Cameron has given his backing to the project and pointed out that all information collected will be made anonymous before it is stored, plus patients will be able to opt out if they wish.

"By unlocking the power of DNA data, the NHS will lead the global race for better tests, better drugs and above all better care. We could transform how we diagnose and treat our most complex diseases," he commented.

Professor of medical sciences at Oxford University Sir John Bell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that a DNA database could lead to personalised medicine for everyone.

"There is a possibility that this will help in a whole variety of ways, including the use of new drugs," he commented.

Mapping the human genome cost millions of pounds when it was first achieved in 2000, but Professor Bell believes it will soon be possible to do it for as little as £100.

However, the government would have to ensure the most stringent data protection methods are employed if it does succeed with this project, as patients could be tracked via their DNA if it were to fall into the wrong hands.

Civil liberties groups have already said they are worried about this, with GeneWatch UK saying it could "wipe out privacy".

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats both said they were opposed to a national DNA database prior to the last general election.