Photo/Illutration(The Asahi Shimbun)

The health ministry will start full-genome analysis of the gene information of patients with cancer and other intractable diseases to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatments, under an action plan announced Dec. 20.

According to the health ministry plan, the study will be conducted for up to three years. Medical samples from about 92,000 patients with cancers and intractable diseases will be analyzed over that period.

Full-genome analysis will examine all the gene information in human DNA. By comparison, gene panel inspection only examines areas of genes that are cancerous.

Full-genome analysis is expected to find causes of the diseases, which the gene panel inspection cannot clarify, and to improve treatment.

Medical samples from about 64,000 cancer patients kept at the National Cancer Center Japan in Tokyo and other institutions and samples of 28,000 patients with intractable diseases will be analyzed. Medical samples newly provided by patients will also be analyzed.

The ministry will first analyze about 21,000 samples that were approved with the patients' consent and are of sufficient quality, prior to checking the remaining samples.

About 16,000 samples are from patients with rare cancers and other cancers such as lung, liver, childhood and hereditary forms. About 5,500 samples are from patients with intractable diseases. What kinds of genes caused the intractable diseases are not known.

After the prioritized analysis of the 21,000 samples, the ministry will start a full-scale analysis of samples from new patients. Based on the prioritized analysis, the kinds of cancers and intractable diseases to be examined and the numbers of samples will be determined.

Full genome analysis is currently conducted in the United States and Britain.

Britain, which has completed the analysis of samples from 100,000 patients with cancers and intractable diseases, is seeking to analyze 1 million samples by 2023.

In Japan, the health ministry said that it will continue full-genome analysis and hopes to eventually compile a complete database of the genomes of Japanese cancer patients.

Satoru Miyano, who heads the Human Genome Center of the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science, has high hopes for the ministry's plan.

“We can know genetic mutations that Japanese are more likely to have by accumulating the data,” he said. “It will improve the accuracy of the treatments.”