Wednesday, 26 December 2012

UK tries hard on genomics!

For the end of 2012 UK researchers have received a really nice Christmas present. George Osborne, the UK finance minister, announced an investment of £600 million ($963 million) to sustain the Medical Research Council as well as facilities for applied research and development (as reported by the Nature News blog).
At the beginning of December, the Prime Minister revealed that a consistent part of this funding (around  £100 million ($160.9 million) will be directed to genomics research for an ambitious project aimed to perform whole genome sequencing on 100,000 UK individuals and to use their genomic information for studies and treatments of cancer and other diseases. The funds will be used for the sequencing itself as well as for the training of scientific and medical staff to improve the capabilities of the UK health system in managing genomic data and providing personalized treatments.
The interesting fact about the UK effort is its focus on whole genome instead of the classical exome sequencing, currently the dominant approach in others large NGS efforts. This choice promises to be especially effective for the discovery of regulatory variants related to cancer and other disease (see also the post from GenomeWeb).
Indeed, the primary effort of the project will be toward cancer and rare diseases as reported in the official Prime Minister website and the BBC medical news:

The Government has earmarked £100 million:
- to train a new generation of British genetic scientists to lead on the development of new drugs, treatments and cures, building the UK as the world leader in the field. And train the wider healthcare community in harnessing this technology;
- to pump-prime DNA sequencing for cancer and rare inherited diseases;
- to build the NHS data infrastructure to ensure that this new technology leads to better care for patients.

The Prime Minister's Office said that the genome sequencing will be entirely voluntary. Patients will be able to opt out of the sequencing, and the DNA data will be anonymized except when it is used in the context of a patient's individual care. The NHS will explore a number of ways to store the data, and it plans to make patient privacy and confidentiality an important factor in the decision about which platforms and technologies it will use.

To promote the initiative, the Prime Minister David Cameron popped by the genomics core facility at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute (see the news here), where he kicked off the run to demonstrate how easy sequencing has become (to be honest, cartridge and flowcell have been prepared by the lab, so basically it was all about pushing some buttons...). However the visit of the Prime Minister and the funding announcement was an exciting event, as reported in the CoreGenomics blog by James Hadfield, who runs the lab.

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