31 January 2011
ByAppeared in BioNews 593
China committed US $300 million to the world's first database of all genetic variations linked to human disease this month.
The investment, paid over ten years, will fund around 25 percent of the Human Variome Project (HVP), which aims to provide a global database of genetic variations for diagnosis and research. The Chinese contribution is the biggest investment in the project since it was established in 2006.
'This is an unprecedented step forward for the field of genetic health', said Professor Richard Cotton, scientific director of the project. 'By committing this level of funds directly to achieving the vision of the Human Variome Project, China has shown the world that not only do they recognise genetic disease as a serious global health issue, but that they are serious about addressing it'.
As part of the funding agreement, China will establish a genetics institute in Beijing which will offer training in genetic counselling and testing. Several Chinese hospitals and universities will help set up a 'node' or network to collect genetic data from diagnostic testing laboratories and clinics. Five other countries - Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Egypt and Kuwait - are also developing networks.
'The research will be very close to the clinic', says Dr Ming Qi, professor and director of the Zhejiang University Centre for Genetic and Genomic Medicine. 'It will be a fundamental change for China'. The move signals China's growing interest in medical genetics.
Despite China's investment, Professor Cotton says the project is a long way from achieving its goal. 'The Human Variome Project sees a world where the availability of and access to genetic variation information is not an impediment to diagnosis and treatment', he said. 'We'd definitely like to see more countries become involved'.