The move towards personalised medicine has catapulted forward after UK scientists identified all mutations in skin and lung cancer and produced the first complete cancer genomes.

The researchers, from the Wellcome Trust’s Sanger Institute in the UK, sequenced and compared the DNA from both normal and cancerous tissues and found more than 23,000 mutations in the lung cancer tumour and more than 33,000 in melanoma. While many of these were harmless, several were in positions that caused or increased the chances of normal cells to turn cancerous. The researchers believe these mutations will not only be used for early diagnosis but will also be important targets for future oncology drugs.

“We have never seen cancer revealed in this form before… By identifying all the cancer genes we will be able to develop new drugs that target the specific mutated genes and work out which patients will benefit from these novel treatments,” the scientists said when the research was published in Nature yesterday.

Further study of the genomes is expected to provide indicators of lifestyle and environmental factors that can trigger the cancers.

The research has been called “groundbreaking” with professor Carlos Caldas, from Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute, saying “what is so new in this study is the researchers have been able to link particular mutations to their cause. The hope and excitement for the future is that we will eventually have a detailed picture of how different cancers develop, and ultimately how better to treat and prevent them.”

Other scientists around the world are also working on the genomes of other cancers – Japan is looking at liver, China stomach, and the USA at brain, ovary and pancreas. It is believed cataloguing cancer genes in patients could be commonplace within the next 10 years.