13 August 2012
ByAppeared in BioNews 668
The anti-doping laboratories built for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be developed into the world's first Phenome Research Centre; the term 'phenome' referring to the overall expression of a person's characteristics and traits as determined by the interaction of genetics and environment.
Announcing the new facility, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said the centre would 'take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities that lie in combining genetic data with the results of medical tests on tissues and blood. It will allow us to understand the characteristics of disease and how these link into genes and our environment'.
The testing facility, originally a partnership between drug control scientists at King's College London and owners GlaxoSmithKline, is based in Harlow, Essex. The lab tests blood and urine samples of every medallist and a randomised selection of other athletes for more than 240 banned substances.
The Phenome Centre project will use a portion of the lab's equipment to analyse patient and volunteer samples to look for biological markers of disease present in the human phenome.
Funding for the centre for its first five years has been secured by £5 million investments from both the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Operations at the centre will be led by a collaboration of universities headed by Imperial College London with the aim of analysing up to 25,000 samples in the first year and scaling up to analyse an estimated 100,000 samples in the years after. The labs will still be available for use by private medical companies.
According to a statement released by the MRC, researchers will be able to analyse samples 'very rapidly and on an unprecedented scale. This will help them to discover new "biomarkers" to explain why one individual or population may be more susceptible to a disease than another'.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said that research performed at the centre 'promises better targeted treatments for patients with a wide range of diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia'.
Mr Cameron announced the opening of the MRC-NIHR Phenome Research Centre at the Global Health Policy Summit in London. The switch over from anti-doping operations is planned for early October with business expected to start in January 2013.