Will genome sequencing be routine in cancer care and research?

4 December 2011

A pilot trial reported in Science Translational Medicine further underlines the potential benefit of genomic tumour sequencing to inform clinical management.

Samples from a small number of patients with different forms of advanced cancer were examined using whole genome, exome and RNA transcriptome sequencing, in each case revealing abnormalities that suggested specific treatments.
At under US$5,000 per patient and with results delivered in under a month, this was proposed to be financially and practically feasible; the authors also warned that current trials of targeted therapies needed urgent redesign, to allow inclusion of patients with genetic tumour features that indicated they would be likely to respond.
Comment: Although the authors of this report demonstrate neatly how both clinical practice and research in oncology could (and arguably should) incorporate genomic sequencing, it is worth noting that in this study, results were reviewed by a multidisciplinary group of experts. Providing suitable expertise of this nature is likely to prove much more problematic than access to basic sequencing services.
The key barrier to genomic research at present (where analytical expertise is readily available) is handling the huge volumes of data; as genome sequencing is increasingly used in clinical research this is becoming an issue that concerns increasing numbers of researchers. There is increasing interest in cloud computing as a possible solution to capacity issues, but solving the problem of data overload inside and outside the clinic is likely to require innovation in computing, bioinformatics, and more besides.