A new national research centre will look at how peopleâ€™s genes and environment affect their health â€“ and how treatments can be tailored to individual patients.The centre, which opened in London this week, promises to put the UK at the forefront of a revolution in health and medical research.It will examine around 100,000 blood and urine samples every year to help determine the causes of disease and indicate how treatments can be personally tailored.
The new centre is based at Imperial College London but working in collaboration with King's College London and analytical technology companies the Waters Corporation and Bruker Biospin. It is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Professor Jeremy Nicholson, head of the department of surgery and cancer, is its director.Professor Nicholson said: "The sequencing of the human genome generated a lot of excitement among scientists and the public, but studying our genes has revealed less than we had hoped about common diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. By studying the phenomes [the biological results of peopleâ€™s genes and environment] we can examine the effects of our genes, our lifestyle and our environment. What we discover about the causes of disease can be used to inform healthcare."
The centre uses 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. It will measure chemicals, such as fats, sugars, vitamins and hormones, including those 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.
"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," said Professor Frank Kelly, co-investigator at the centre and director of analytical and environmental sciences division at King's College London.
"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."
One of the first projects to benefit from the technology is a study of blood pressure.
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