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World’s largest respiratory genetics study launches on World COPD Day

Researchers funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) are to conduct the largest ever study of the genetics relating to lung disease. The main aims of the study will be to discover what determines an individual’s lung health and why smoking harms the lungs of some people more than others.

The scientists, from the University of Nottingham, the University of Leicester, and St George’s, University of London, hope to find out why some people are genetically more prone to suffer from lung disease, particularly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD includes conditions such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema and is the sixth most common cause of death in the UK (around 30,000 deaths per year). It affects approximately 900,000 people in the UK and costs the NHS £500m every year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that COPD is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide (after coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and acute respiratory infection) but it is predicted to move into third place in the near future. Wednesday 14 November is World COPD Day.

The project aims to discover the genes which affect lung function, and also those which may affect the chances of developing lung disease for both smokers and non-smokers. It will also investigate whether genes play a part in the ability, or the failure, to maintain good lung health for both smokers and non-smokers. The researchers will also be able to investigate genetic factors that may affect the likelihood of an individual becoming addicted to smoking.

The study, which is called UK BiLEVE (UK Biobank Lung Exome Variant Evaluation), will be one of the first projects to make use of UK Biobank which holds health and lifestyle information from half a million volunteers and is the world’s largest data resource of its kind.

All UK Biobank participants have already had their lung function measured and given information about their smoking habits, past and present. They have also provided blood samples which can be used to extract genetic information. In this study researchers will use the anonymous data from 50,000 of these participants to determine genetic variants associated with susceptibility to COPD. They will look at both rare and common single nucleotide polymorphisms (tiny variations in genes) in the participants’ DNA and the lung function of those who are heavy smokers and those who have never smoked.

Lead researcher and Dean of Nottingham Medical School, Professor Ian Hall, says: “We currently know very little about why there is such a wide difference in lung health even among smokers. It may have something to do with genetics so we’re extremely excited about using the unique resource of UK Biobank to test this theory. This study couldn’t be done anywhere else in the world.”

Professor David Lomas, Chair of the MRC Population and Systems Medicine Board, says: “We know that smoking is unhealthy for anyone but we know little about why the lungs of most smokers are seriously affected, while those of some seem to stay relatively healthy. If we knew more about the genetics that cause this variation we would be better able to direct treatments to those who are most at risk and have an increased chance of developing drugs to target this type of lung disease.”

Professor Sir Rory Collins, UK Biobank Principal Investigator, said: “We are extremely grateful to the half a million people throughout Britain who went out of their way to join UK Biobank. Their commitment will provide key insights into a wide range of illnesses that kill and cause pain and suffering. Last week we heard of plans to use UK Biobank to study dementia. This week UK Biobank helps scientists tackle a serious lung condition. UK Biobank will become a key resource to improve health in the 21st century. We are grateful to the MRC, Wellcome Trust and Department of Health for having the vision to back such an initiative.”

ENDS

 

For more information, and to speak to researchers involved in the study or to patients with COPD, please contact:

Carmel Turner

Chief Press Officer, Medical Research Council

T: 0207 395 2273 (out of hours: 07818 428 297)

E: press.office@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

 

For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk.

 

UK Biobank is a major national health resource, and a registered charity in its own right, with the aim of improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses – including cancer, heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, eye disorders, depression and forms of dementia. UK Biobank recruited 500,000 people aged between 40-69 years in 2006-2010 from across the country. They have undergone measures, provided blood, urine and saliva samples for future analysis (including genetic), detailed information about themselves and agreed to have their health followed. Over many years this will build into a powerful resource to help scientists discover why some people develop particular diseases and others do not. UK Biobank was established by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust medical charity, Department of Health, Scottish Government and the Northwest Regional Development Agency. It has also had funding from the Welsh Assembly Government and the British Heart Foundation.

 

The University of Leicester is a leading UK University committed to international excellence through the creation of world changing research and high quality, inspirational teaching. Leicester is the most socially inclusive of Britain's top-20 leading universities. The University of Leicester was the THE University of the Year 2008-9  and is the only University to win six consecutive awards from the Times Higher. In awarding the title the judges cited Leicester’s ability to “evidence commitment to high quality, a belief in the synergy of teaching and research and a conviction that higher education is a power for good”. Leicester was, said the judges, "elite without being elitist". www.le.ac.uk

 

The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has 42,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is also one of the most popular university in the UK by 2012 application numbers, and ‘the world’s greenest university’. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2011, for its research into global food security. Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future.

 

St George’s, University of London (SGUL), established in 1733, is distinctive as the UK’s only independent medical and healthcare higher education institution. It benefits from strong links with the healthcare profession, including a shared site with St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust in Tooting, south west London. SGUL is dedicated to the education and training of doctors, nurses, midwives, physician assistants, paramedics, physiotherapists, radiographers, social workers, healthcare and biomedical scientists. It attracts around 6,000 students, some of whom are taught in conjunction with Kingston University. Research at SGUL has a UK and international focus and aims to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease in areas including infection and immunity, heart disease and stroke, and cell signalling. It also aims to enhance understanding of public health and epidemiology, clinical genetics, and social care sciences. www.sgul.ac.uk

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