Your genome provides all the instructions your body needs to grow, develop and stay healthy. An identical copy of these instructions can be found in every one of the millions of cells that make up our bodies.
A genome is formed when four different chemicals pair together repeatedly to form a long strand of DNA. Because the names of these chemicals are often shorted to simply A, T, C and G, scientists often talk about "letters" in a genome.
The human genome has around three billion letters in it.
It is important to realise there are more than three million individual differences between the letters in one person's genome sequence and anyone else's. These differences are what give us different coloured eyes, hair or blood type for example.
Importantly, we also know that the DNA sequence within the cancer cells of one pancreatic cancer patient will be different to the DNA sequence within the cells of any other pancreatic cancer patient.
Throughout your lifetime, your body will copy your genome many, many times over. It does this to keep you healthy by making sure that your cells grow, die and are replaced in an organised way.
However, sometimes during this copying process, the sequence of letters can mistakenly become mixed up or altered. In most cases such changes, called "mutations", are corrected by the body and so have little affect on a persons health.
However, a genetic disease, like cancer, can happen if the DNA sequence become corrupted in a way interferes with the body's ability to follow the original instructions.
In the past, doctors prescribed medicine in a way that didn't account for the unique nature of people's genomes. We know that sometimes a cancer treatment that works very well for one patient does not work so well for another. This is most likely because of the unique nature of the genome sequence of one patient and their cancer compared to any other patient.
Unlike traditional treatments, which group cancers by the place in the body where they first appeared, personalised medicine thinks of disease in terms of it's genetic make up. As mentioned above, this approach is particularly important in the case of cancer patients because no two people are the same - just as no two cancers are the same. Personalised therapy describes a way of treating patients that carefully considers the genetic make up of the individual patient before deciding what the most suitable therapy might be for that individual.
In short, it aims to help the patient and their doctor chose the most suitable therapy based on their individual genomes and that of their cancer.
In the longer term, it will also help researchers and doctors to develop therapies that target specific genetic changes and allow them to design better clinical trials for future patients.
The National Health Service as a whole will benefit as more effective treatments will save time and reduce costs.
Personalised therapy for pancreatic patients is not routinely available within the NHS. The NHS is currently working out how to introduce personalised approaches to treatments to routine clinical care at the moment. You can find out more about this Personalised Medicine Strategy on the NHS England webpages.
In the meantime, we are able to offer advice and assistance to pancreatic cancer patients who wish to have their tumours analysed. We may be able to patients and their clinicians decide what the most suitable treatment options could be.
Simply contact us and one of our team will get in touch to discuss how we can help.