The laboratory, which has been established with £1.3m funding from the Department of Health, uses new methods developed with the expertise of the National Genetics Reference Laboratory at Salisbury District Hospital and robotic systems from commercial partners PerkinElmer and CSols.
The key to the speed and accuracy of the new system is the way in which the two large genes involved (called BRCA1 and BRCA2) are divided into 79 smaller regions that are individually tested before the precise genetic alteration is identified.
Chris Mattocks, Project Leader, said: "We believed from the outset that our design for a high throughput laboratory could outperform more traditional methods. Now we know that this system can deliver faster results and lower costs with no reduction in accuracy."
The system has already been used to analyse 1000 cases in record time and patients are tested within the eight-week maximum for a gene test laid down by the government in the White Paper Our inheritance, our future: realising the power of genetics in the NHS.
This will benefit patients in Salisbury as well as the 11 million people in England who are served by the SCOBEC network of laboratories in Salisbury, Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, Exeter and Cardiff (SCOBEC).
Dr John Harvey, Project Director, said: "This has been a real team effort, but particular credit is due to the Project Leader Chris Mattocks, Process Manager Dan Ward, Lead Scientist Julie Sillibourne and Director of CSols Phil Goddard. We aim to test for further genetic conditions in the high throughput laboratory in the future and are already receiving enquiries about the new system from other centres in the UK and overseas."
Dr John Barber, Deputy Director of the Wessex Regional Genetics Laboratory said: "The new facility enhances the major aims of the genetics service to diagnose, manage and prevent genetic disease. It also demonstrates what can be achieved with the enthusiastic and innovative staff here in the genetics laboratories at Salisbury District Hospital." End
Notes to editors:
Between 5 and 10% of those who develop breast cancer inherit a gene alteration from one of their parents. Those with an inherited form are far more likely to develop the disease in their 30s and 40s and to have a strong family history.
On average, only half the members of such a family will inherit the alteration and the purpose of testing is to provide monitoring and early treatment for those who have inherited the alteration and reassurance for those family members who have not, that their risk of breast cancer is little different from ordinary members of the public.
Patients concerned about a possible genetic basis of breast cancer should contact their GP in the first instance. Appropriate patients can be referred on and seen by the doctors of the Wessex Clinical Genetics Service who hold monthly clinics across Hampshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight.
The full text of the White Paper can be found on the Department of Health web site at http://www.dh.gov.uk/PolicyAndGuidance/HealthAndSocialCareTopics/Genetics/fs/ensper. The White Paper led directly to the formation of the National Genetics Reference Laboratories and the SCOBEC network of laboratories facilitated by Specialist Commissioners in the South and East of England and Project Manager, Trudi Mann.
The National Genetics Reference Laboratory (Wessex) is one of two in the UK, funded, after competitive tender, for five years by the Department of Health. The Reference Laboratory is directed by Professor Nick Cross and further details of the work of the laboratory can be found on the web site at www.ngrl.org.uk/Wessex/
For further information please contact:
Patrick Butler, Public Relations Manager, Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust. Tel: 01722 425170