The UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) has given three regional 'genetics hubs' over £7 million in funding so they can purchase the latest cutting-edge equipment which can read large amounts of DNA quickly, cheaply and accurately. The high-throughput sequencing (HTS) hubs will be created in Scotland, and the North and East of England, enabling the UK to retain its world-leading status in DNA research. This will have important implications for medical research including the possibility of speeding up bone marrow and organ transplants, and improving the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases.
The three hubs will give clinicians and medical researchers unprecedented access to the latest methods of reading the human genome and should yield fresh insights into how health is influenced by DNA, whilst enabling the delivery of better patient care. One of the first groups to benefit from the MRC investment could be transplant patients - a new project will investigate how they can be matched to suitable donors more quickly and accurately through the use of genetic sequencing. There are also plans to explore the technology's potential for pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome, and to identify the inherited genetic mutations that can cause kidney and eye disorders, and colon and breast cancer.
Mark Blaxter, from the University of Edinburgh and Principal Investigator of the Scotland Hub, said: 'This investment from the MRC will allow us to support and underpin world-leading genetics research across Scotland and beyond, working with MRC researchers investigating issues such as familial cancers, psychiatric disease and the genomics of pathogens such as E. coli, C. difficile and malaria.'
The Northern hub, based in Liverpool, will enhance the facilities already available to researchers through the Advanced Genomics Facility. Professor Neil Hall, from the University of Liverpool and Principal Investigator of the North of England Hub, said that 'there is a pressing need to understand the basis of genetic variation and to use it to define the most appropriate treatment for each patient with a particular condition'. He added: 'This personalised medicine will require establishing the DNA sequence of particular genes in those patients. Such research will benefit greatly from the new HTS hub.'
Professor John Todd, from Cambridge University and the third Principal Investigator, explained: 'Only a few years ago, it took an international consortium many years of effort to produce a first draft of the human genome sequence, but now it will be possible for the proposed hub in Cambridge, the Eastern Sequence and Informatics Hub (EASIH), to re-sequence 100 human genomes in a year.' EASIH will be based at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and plans to collaborate with the National Blood Service and the NHS Regional Clinical Genetics Services, with the strategic aim of applying HTS to routine medical diagnostic uses.