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Harnessing genomic research
10 November 2005
Biomedical and health applications boosted by results of industry and academic collaboration
Regeneration of spinal nerve cells, a new way to personalise breast cancer treatment, rapid near-patient diagnosis of meningitis, MRSA and Chlamydia and effective vaccines to protect against salmonella are all important applications to have benefited from a £30M research programme built around harnessing knowledge of the human and other genomes.
A key feature of this LINK Applied Genomics Programme has been effective collaboration between industry and academia aimed at accelerating the application of knowledge of genomics in biomedicine and healthcare.
The programme funded 21 projects covering diverse research areas. Highlights from the programme include:
Nerve tissue regeneration -During spinal cord injury the nerves that transmit information between the brain and the body are injured and fail to regrow. The loss of this communication leads to paralysis and loss of sensation. Scientists at King’s College London and Oxford BioMedica are investigating a receptor which allows nerve cells to reform severed connections. Identifying the genes that contribute to this regeneration will allow the team to understand why damaged nerve cells are unable to repair themselves. The work could lead to ways of stimulating nerves to regrow and repair damaged connections.
Personalised cancer treatment - A large number of cancers are linked to mutations in a specific gene or biological pathway. Researchers from KuDOS pharmaceuticals, Imperial College London and the Gurdon Institute, Cambridge are exploring ways to identify molecular signatures resulting from the loss of specific gene function in breast cancers that will correlate with susceptibility to a new anti-cancer drug being developed by KuDOS. The drug involved has the potential to kill tumour cells without affecting normal cells, so avoiding the side effects of hair-loss and nausea that often result from existing therapies. The genes and biological pathway under investigation are involved in hereditary breast and ovarian cancers and have also been linked to other types of cancers.
Rapid diagnosis of infectious diseases – Scientists at the Universities of Bath and Glasgow, with colleagues from Stobhill Hospital and Atlas Genetics Ltd are miniaturising established molecular techniques and combining them with novel assays to develop a hand-held 'chip' that will allow doctors to identify specific bacteria in patient samples. In the future this chip could be used to for rapid diagnosis of dangerous diseases such as MRSA infection and bacterial meningitis, where fast confirmation is critical, or for potentially catastrophic but widespread and non-symptomatic infections such as that caused by Chlamydia.
Vaccine against salmonella – A team investigating the microbial genes important for the survival and growth of the salmonella pathogen during infection is using this knowledge to generate mutant bacterial strains that may be useful as vaccines. Experiments under way have shown several mutant bacterial strains to be highly effective as vaccines. In comparative studies one of the new strains had similar efficacy to that conferred by the current vaccine 'gold-standard' strain. Scientists from the Universities of Cambridge, Newcastle and Oxford and University College London have been working with their partner Arrow Therapeutics to combat this costly and dangerous livestock and human disease.
The highlights of the research programme are being presented to Parliamentarians and business leaders at a reception in London on the evening of 10 November. The programme was sponsored by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).
Notes to editors
The overall objective of the Applied Genomics LINK programme was to encourage the use of genome sequence and genetic data to identify new functionalities in biological systems that are capable of exploitation in the healthcare industries. Research into project areas that will increase the understanding of the information encoded in the human genome and those of other organisms and how this relates to the actions of proteins in the context of whole cells, tissues, organisms and diseases has been included in the programme. The programme was closed to new applications in June 2004, after four years.
The Applied Genomics LINK Programme involved researchers from 17 universities and research institutions collaborating with 23 industrial partners, 21 of which were SMEs who had not been involved in such a programme before. The programme has attracted over £14M of industrial funding in addition to the matched funding from the sponsors and has lead to significant industrial developments including novel targets, tools and equipment for drug discovery, as well as valuable intellectual property.
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Dr Celia Caulcott, Programme Co-ordinator
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