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Imperial College London 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).
Imperial College London 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 for the first five years.
The centre will be based at Imperial and will be directed by Professor Jeremy Nicholson, head of the department 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.
The term “phenome” refers to a group of proteins that are influenced by environmental and genetic factors. The centre is fitted with nuclear magnetic resonance and mass spectrometry equipment to measure the chemicals contained within blood and urine samples, including the fats, sugars, vitamins and hormones produced by the body. Data resulting from phenome analysis can be used to determine the causes of disease, and it is hoped in the future that specific treatments may be tailored for specific diseases.
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 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."
He added: "It will also allow us to see how individual patients respond to different treatments over time. For example, we could quickly discern whether a cancer patient is responding to chemotherapy and, if not, switch to a different treatment, without wasting valuable time. And the data we gather will mean that, ultimately, we will be able to predict which treatments will work for which patients, based on their phenome."
The GRAPHIC study, set up to investigate the genetics of high blood pressure, will be one of the first projects to benefit from the facility. Blood and urine samples already taken from 2,000 volunteers will be tested at the centre. Study leader, Professor Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology at the University of Leicester and Director of the NIHR Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit, will work 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. We already know that high blood pressure is partly caused by genes and partly by lifestyle and environmental factors, but we really don't understand how these interact at the protein and molecular level to raise blood pressure. This research will identify key changes in the phenome that correlate with blood pressure and help to identify mechanisms that we can target to develop better treatments."
With equipment donations and the support of Waters and Bruker, the centre will also feature an international training facility. This will enable students, scientists, and doctors from around the world to gain hands-on experience of using analytical technology to study the human phenome.
Art Caputo, President of the Waters Division at Waters Corporation, said: "Waters is proud to be part of this first-of-a-kind research centre and the opportunity to work with such distinguished partners. Our mission at Waters is to advance science to constantly push the boundaries of what's possible. We fully expect this centre will do just that, multiplying our understanding of disease, setting the standard for this field of research, and continually helping us to improve the health of populations around the world. There are no limits to the breakthroughs in health we might see as a result of work here at the NIHR-MRC Phenome Centre and hopefully in the near future in affiliated centres across the world, too."
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