Northern Ireland collaboration providing better and faster diagnostic testing for people with cancer
A new collaboration has transformed healthcare in Northern Ireland by providing a more precise and faster diagnosis service, as well as better treatment options for people with cancer.
The Precision Medicine Centre (PMC) at Queen’s has developed a partnership with the Regional Molecular Diagnostic Service (RMDS) at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT), to implement genomic technology for the diagnosis of cancer patients.
The new Service integrates an innovative genomic test developed by the Precision Medicine Centre at Queen’s into the diagnostic workup of cancer patients in Northern Ireland to ensure they can access a much wider range, and the latest and most effective cancer treatments available in the rest of the UK and EU.
The Service uses comprehensive genomic profiling for diagnostic purposes that looks for mutations and other alterations in DNA of cancer biopsies. Finding these DNA alterations allows patients to receive targeted treatments that can improve their survival and quality of life, compared to conventional cancer treatments.
In addition, it is more cost-efficient to provide than the standard testing system previously used in Northern Ireland and allows patients to be enrolled in new clinical trials exploring novel therapies for cancer treatments, which can help improve patient outcomes.
David Gonzalez de Castro, Professor of Genomic Medicine at Queen’s and Consultant Clinical Scientist at the BHSCT, explains: “Genomic medicine offers very real and exciting prospects for healthcare in Northern Ireland in terms of early detection, faster diagnosis, and personalised and better treatment for cancer patients.
“This collaboration ensures our patients are offered a first-class homegrown genomic diagnostic service and is a fine example of how the Precision Medicine Centre at Queen’s is working with our partners to deliver for our patients and supporting the NHS at a challenging time. This represents the first example of an innovative collaboration model that will extend to other diagnostic modalities, making the most of this strategic partnership for the benefit of our patients.”
The Precision Medicine Centre (PMC) at Queen’s is a co-investment from Invest Northern Ireland, Queen’s University Belfast and the Health & Social Care Research & Development Division of the Public Health Agency.
Clodagh Loughrey, Chair of Division for Labs and Pharmacy at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said: “The Regional Molecular Diagnostics Service in Belfast Trust Laboratories is delighted to be working with partnership with Queen’s Precision Medicine Centre to realise a world class service for Northern Ireland cancer patients.
“A more precise diagnosis – identifying a cancer's genes to predict how it will behave, how quickly it will grow, and which treatments are most likely to work against it – will allow tailored treatment plans, leading to better outcomes for patients who need treatment and avoiding unnecessary treatments in those who don’t. Game changing diagnostics are leading to game changing treatments, and it is wonderful that this service is being developed in our own region by our own scientists and healthcare staff.”
Dr Vicky Kell, Director of Innovation Research and Development at Invest NI said: “We are pleased that our support for R&D has enabled this collaboration between PMC and RMDS, leading to advances in precision medicine that will make a real difference to people’s lives in Northern Ireland. This collaboration also epitomises the Department for the Economy’s 10X Economic Vision with innovation, inclusivity, and sustainability at the core of this new service.”
Professor Ian Young, Northern Ireland’s Chief Scientific Advisor, said: “The development of genomic medicine provides huge opportunities to deliver personalised treatments which will improve outcomes for cancer patients. Partnership between Health and Social Care and academic researchers is critical to these developments, and we are delighted to see the research which we support lead directly to patient and service benefits.”
Invest NI’s R&D support is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth and Jobs Northern Ireland (2014–2020) Programme.
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