MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre aims to advance personalized medicine

The Column

The Column, The Column-06-21-2013, Volume 9, Issue 11

Imperial College London has announced the opening of a new and unique national research facility: the MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre, a collaboration between Imperial College London (London, UK), King?s College London (London, UK), Waters Corporation (Massachusetts, USA), and Bruker BioSpin (Massachusetts, USA). The centre has secured funding of ?10 million from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for the first five years.

Imperial College London has announced the opening of a new and unique national research facility: theMRC-NIHR Phenome Centre, a collaboration between Imperial College London (London, UK), King’s CollegeLondon (London, UK), Waters Corporation (Massachusetts, USA), and Bruker BioSpin (Massachusetts, USA). Thecentre has secured funding of £10 million from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and National Institute forHealth Research (NIHR) for the first five years.

The centre will be based at Imperial and will be directed by Professor Jeremy Nicholson, head of thedepartment of surgery and cancer. It is expected to examine around 100,000 blood and urine samples each year,analysing patient phenomes and providing a service to researchers throughout the UK. Nicholson said: “Thesequencing of the human genome generated a lot of excitement among scientists and the public, but studyingour genes has revealed less than we had hoped about common diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heartdisease. By studying the phenome 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 term “phenome” refers to a group of proteins that are influenced by environmental and geneticfactors. The centre is fitted with nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectrometry equipment to measurethe chemicals contained within blood and urine samples, including the fats, sugars, vitamins, and hormonesproduced by the body. The GRAPHIC study, set up to investigate the genetics of high blood pressure, will be oneof the first projects to benefit from the facility. Blood and urine samples already taken from 2,000 volunteers willbe tested at the centre. Study leader, Professor Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiologyat the University of Leicester and Director of the NIHR Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit, willwork with staff at the centre to discover chemicals that relate to higher or lower blood pressure.

Samani said: “We are very excited by this project. Wealready know that high blood pressure is partly caused bygenes and partly by lifestyle and environmental factors, butwe really don’t understand how these interact at the proteinand molecular level to raise blood pressure. This researchwill identify key changes in the phenome that correlate withblood pressure and help to identify mechanisms that we cantarget to develop better treatments.”

With equipment donations and the support of Waters andBruker, the centre will also feature an international trainingfacility. This will enable students, scientists, and doctorsfrom around the world to gain hands-on experience of usinganalytical technology to study the human phenome.

For more information please visit:

www.imperial.ac.uk or www.waters.com

This story originally appeared in The Column. Click here to view that issue.