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UK to embark on groundbreaking new genomics projects

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The UK is embarking on a series of research projects in 2023, cementing its position as a global leader in genomics.

This includes the world’s largest genetic medicine initiative, linking the DNA profiles of 5 million adults with lifestyle data and health records into a new project called Our Future Health.

at the same time, neonatal genome program Read the DNA of 100,000 babies (all 3 billion letters of the genetic code) to detect childhood diseases. Other projects will focus on cancer and the genomic documentation of minorities that have been underrepresented in medical research.

“There is no question that the UK is a world leader in genomics,” said Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Institute Translational Institute in California, who was not directly involved in the programme. “Our commitment to genomics is broader and broader than any other country.”

Britain’s prowess in DNA research dates back 70 years to the discovery of molecular structure by Francis Crick and James Watson. 1970s.

Recently, during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, British scientists led the world in reading the coronavirus genome and identifying the emergence of novel virus variants.

The new program will launch in England next year on two major strands. Expansion to the rest of the UK is expected to continue.

One of them is the Newborn Genomes Program run by Genomics England, a publicly traded company. It primarily focuses on genetic mutations that cause rare childhood diseases. The government has invested a total of £175m in this program and other Genomics England cancer and diversity initiatives.

The second project will be run by Our Future Health, an independent charity that has received £79m from the government and over £100m from industry partners. It looks for genetic variants that predispose people to common chronic diseases that affect an estimated 500 million people worldwide, such as heart disease and her type 2 diabetes.

Diagram illustrating the process of sequencing DNA using electrophoresis

The first 150,000 volunteers have already been recruited for Our Future Health via the internet, invitations and five mobile hubs to travel the UK. They agree to complete health and lifestyle questionnaires, undergo physical examinations, and provide blood samples for genetic analysis.

In addition to their focus on rare and common diseases, another difference between the two programs is that Genomics England emphasizes the clinical benefits of participants, while Our Future Health focuses on is establishing a large cohort of volunteers for the study.

Ewan Birney, Deputy Director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, said:

The UK Biobank has received around £340m from government and charities since it was set up in 2004 as a multi-decade project of 500,000 middle-aged volunteers. Analysis of biobank data generates over 500 research papers annually from scientists around the world. This is a much higher number than comparable medical databases.

Participation in the Biobank was completely altruistic and volunteers received no information about their personal data. Andy Rodham said.

Our Future Health and Genomics England are making a special effort to include a representative sample of the population in their studies after Biobank was criticized for the disproportionate number of white middle-class volunteers.

Amanda Pichini, Clinical Director, Genomics England, said: “Many of these families have no prior knowledge of genetics, so proper counseling is essential.”

Government-industry partnerships already play an important role in UK genomics research and will be further strengthened in the future, said Steve Bates, CEO of the BioIndustry Association.

The government’s investment in programs “will help make the UK a great place to start and scale new genomics companies,” Bates added. We’re here to take advantage of our genomics environment and connect to our datasets.”

So far, the UK’s Genomics Program has worked primarily with California-based Illumina to provide machines that read participants’ DNA. Our Future Health will continue this partnership, using Illumina’s “genotyping arrays” to find genetic variants that determine susceptibility to common diseases. This does not require sequencing the entire genome.

However, two Illumina competitors are emerging. Oxford Nanopore in the UK and PacBio in California are both pressing to join Genomics England’s next project.

Diagram illustrating the process of DNA sequencing using nanopores

Chris Wigley, CEO of Genomics England, said innovation is blooming among companies analyzing genetic data. “We are seeing something like a Cambrian explosion of different technologies and approaches,” he said, referring to the great explosion of evolutionary activity on Earth 550 million years ago.

Oxford-based Genomics plc has partnered with Our Future Health to make sense of your data. This will help generate a “polygenic risk score” that identifies all participants’ risk of developing a wide range of common diseases based on their genetic profile. If the risk is high, individuals and their doctors can take precautions to reduce the risk through behavioral changes and medications.

Genomics plc CEO Peter Donnelly said: “We aim to make personalized prevention a daily part of health services in five to 10 years.”

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