US$600 million grant to study genetics and health

Human DNA is arranged on pairs of chromosomes Copyright:

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A world-renowned UK research centre has received £340 million (nearly US$600 million) to study genetic aspects of human health, including infectious diseases, such as malaria, that affect developing countries.

The Wellcome Trust awarded the grant yesterday (21 December) to the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which was set up in 1992 by the trust and the UK Medical Research Council. The institute was the main contributor to the Human Genome Project, which mapped the complete structure of human DNA.

New programmes will combine research on disease-causing organisms with studies of how people’s genetic make-up helps them resist infection. Researchers will investigate what specific genes do, and which ones might be used to develop new ways of diagnosing or treating diseases.

One of the new programmes will investigate the genetics of malaria, says Allan Bradley, the institute’s director.

The multi-disciplinary research will involve collaborations with other researchers, including those at the Wellcome Trust’s centres in tropical countries and other groups in the developing world. For instance, the institute already has strong links with research centres in South-East Asia working on typhoid.

By strengthening these links, the Sanger Institute intends to help turn research results into practical applications. The emphasis on clinical relevance alongside fundamental research is part of a more general trend at the institute.

“One of our aims is to nurture a new generation of genomic biologists who will make a significant contribution to biomedicine, not just in the United Kingdom, but ultimately around the world,” says Bradley.

The funding will also cover research into ‘developed country’ diseases such as cancer and diabetes that, as Bradley notes, are also increasingly affecting health in the developing world.

To date the Sanger Institute has sequenced the genetic codes of about 50 disease-causing organisms, including those that cause typhoid fever, malaria and sleeping sickness.