01:39pm Friday 10 July 2020

New centre will decipher roles of nature and nurture in human health

The new centre will provide a service to researchers throughout the UK, offering fast, efficient and high-quality analysis of phenomes – the biological results of people’s genes and environment – to help determine the causes of disease and indicate how treatments can be tailored for individual patients.

The facility will enable scientists to better understand and tackle diseases that are triggered by environment as well as genetic causes, and increase the potential to develop strategies for their prevention and treatment.

Ongoing genomics research is helping scientists to understand why some people develop diseases, but most common diseases are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, such as diet and lifestyle. Studying the phenome will help determine how the environment and genes combine to affect biochemical processes that lead to disease.

Funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the National Institute for Health Research, the centre is based at Imperial where its director is Professor Jeremy Nicholson, head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer.

The MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre will use millions of pounds worth of nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectrometry technology to give the most accurate readings to date of the exact chemical make-up of people’s blood and urine. The equipment measures the chemicals, such as fats, sugars, vitamins and hormones, produced by our bodies as well as those that come from our food, drink and medicines and the air we breathe. It can even detect the different types of bacteria naturally occurring in the gut, which can influence our health.

Professor Frank Kelly, Co-Investigator at the Centre and Director of Analytical and Environmental Sciences at King’s College London, said: ‘This technology is already in use in medical research but only on a small-scale. With the creation of this new facility, it will now be possible to get a complete and accurate biological read-out of thousands of individuals.

‘The ability to study the phenome on an industrial scale means we can pick apart the complex circumstances, genetic and environmental, that cause conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.’

The centre has secured funding of £10 million from the MRC and NIHR for its first five years, during which it will also test the thousands of samples already stored by researchers working at the NIHR’s Biomedical Research Centres and Units. The Centres and Units are collaborations between hospitals and universities that focus on ensuring that patients benefit from the most promising medical research.

The UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies said: “The unprecedented capacity of the centre will allow health researchers a brand new window into how our genes interact with the environment, catalysing advances in diagnosis, treatment and personalised healthcare. This globally unique facility will also facilitate collaborative research with the life sciences industry and therefore has the potential to contribute to the nation’s growth. It is a win-win situation for us all.”

Following donations of additional equipment from Waters and Bruker, the centre will also include a state-of-the-art international training facility. This will enable students, scientists and doctors from around the world to gain hands-on experience of using analytical technology to study the human phenome.

Notes to editors

For media information please contact Emma Reynolds, PR Manager (Health) at King’s College London, on 0207 848 4334 or email [email protected].

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