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The genetic building blocks of future healthcare

1 Aug, 2014


Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Trust has long been involved in the area of genomics, most notably funding the creation of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which spearheaded the UK contribution to the Human Genome Project. Today we announce that we are supporting Genomics England by pledging £27 million to pay for a new sequencing facility in Hinxton. Dr Michael Dunn, head of the Genetic and Molecular Sciences Team at the Wellcome Trust, explains why the Trust believes genomics is so important…

For many, the Wellcome Trust’s name will long be associated with the bold and ambitious plans to sequence the human genome. The Human Genome Project’s history is well documented and now, 10 years on from the completion of the ‘gold standard’ sequence of one human genome, technology is enabling the sequencing of hundreds of thousands of human genomes.

Why is this important? The variation between each person’s genome underlies the basis for many diseases, whether it’s a single faulty gene responsible for a child having neonatal diabetes, or the mutations and variations that cause cancer. Sequencing the genomes of pathogens also promises to revolutionise the tracking and control of infectious diseases.

DNA sequencingThese are exciting times for human genetics research, but the benefits to patients will only be realised if sequencing technology becomes part of our health service and if getting a genetic test or whole genome sequence becomes as routine as a blood test.

We are a long way from routinely using genetics to diagnose and treat a variety of diseases, but the Wellcome Trust’s £27 million investment today takes us one step closer. This will support a new building on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus at Hinxton, part of which will be used to house Genomics England’s new sequencing facility. This will share a site with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s sequencing facility, facilitating collaborations and further strengthening this world-leading DNA science and technology hub.

Genomics England has ambitious plans to sequence 100,000 genomes from 75,000 people, some of whom will also have cancer cells sequenced. The sheer scale of the plans is pretty daunting. The genetic information arising from this project will be immense and a huge challenge for computational analysis as well as clinical interpretation. It will also raise a number of issues regarding privacy of patient data. Ensuring that these genetic data can be used maximally for patient benefit whilst protecting the rights of the individual participant must be at the heart of this project.

At the beginning of the Human Genome Project, scientists and funders like the Wellcome Trust knew they were on a journey that would be fraught with difficulties and challenges, but the long-term vision was clear. And so it is with the plans for Genomics England, it will most certainly not be easy, but the future benefits to our nation’s health promise to be immense.

You can read our funding announcement on the Wellcome Trust website.

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