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Wellcome Trust Points to Genomics, Genetics as Key Priorities in 10-Year Plan

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Maximizing the health benefits of genetics and genomics, boosting research capacity beyond the UK, and developing future research leaders were among the priorities for the next decade identified by the Wellcome Trust in a strategic plan unveiled this week.

In its Strategic Plan 2010-20: Extraordinary Opportunities, the Wellcome Trust identified boosting genetics/genomics health benefits as one of five challenges it charged researchers with addressing through the 10-year plan. The global charity promised to support research into how genomes function in health and disease, "and work to ensure that this knowledge generates new health innovations for all."

The Wellcome Trust also pledged to explore and address what it called significant questions raised for society by the research, ensuring that individuals and communities worldwide "are empowered to use their genetic information to improve their health and quality of life."

To those ends, the organization committed itself to addressing seven issues stemming from genetics and genomics research:

• Genomic variation: Wellcome Trust vowed to work toward compiling "a complete picture of how genomic variation affects disease in diverse populations."

• Cohort Studies: The trust said it would help build large-scale cohort studies focused on how genetics, pathogens, lifestyle and environmental factors interact in the development of disease.

• Gene function: It said that it would "develop tools, skills and resources" — including high-throughput structure determination, chemical biology and resources for the study of model organisms — to explain gene function and help develop new therapies.

• Data: The trust pledged to develop and support data and informatics platforms needed to support genomic research and its applications in healthcare.

• Genetics in healthcare: It will fund the development of "new products, devices, and technologies suitable for use in a variety of healthcare settings."

• Genes and society: The trust said it will support research on the social implications of genetics, and its historical context, as well as public discussion on the research and its related ethical issues.

• Research governance: The charity said it would work to ensure a favorable regulatory environment for research, "while providing appropriate safeguards to protect research participants and to maintain public trust."

"We will build partnerships with other funders that can advance this research and ensure its use around the world," the Wellcome Trust added.

The genetics/genomics challenge was one of five articulated by the Wellcome Trust in the 24-page plan, released Feb. 22. The other challenges are understanding the brain; combating infectious disease; investigating development of the human body, including aging and chronic disease; and connecting the environment, nutrition, and health.

"The remarkable progress in medical research over the past ten years, catalysed in part by the completion of the Human Genome Project, provides us with extraordinary opportunities as we move forward into the next decade," Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, said in a statement.

The Wellcome Trust supports genetic and genomic research at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which promised a few months back to upgrade and shift how it uses its sequencing capacity; as well as at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford; and the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium, a partnership investigating genetic factors associated with common diseases.

"We will fund the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute as one of the world's leading genomics research centres, and support Wellcome Trust centres in the UK and Major Overseas Programmes as hubs for research and capacity building," the trust said. "We will take forward major initiatives to build research capacity in India and Africa."

Wellcome Trust funds nine centers of excellence in the UK — including the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford — as well as major overseas programs against malaria and other tropical diseases in Africa and Asia. Those include the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies located in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, as well as in Kenya, Malawi, and the Southeast Asia Programme based in Thailand and Vietnam.

In the strategic plan, the global charity said it would move ahead with the Wellcome Trust Investigator Awards program, set to launch Oct. 1, with a deadline of Nov. 22 for the first round of awards. It also said that it would fund research aimed at maximizing genetics/genomics health benefits or addressing any of the plan's four other challenges through its Strategic Awards program.

The organization also committed itself to working with other research funders "to develop and sustain key research infrastructures and resources" – including working with Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council, and University College London to establish the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation. UKCMRI, which is planned for London near the St. Pancras International rail station, would employ genomic technologies in the array of research its partners plan to pursue there — but it also has drawn opposition from many residents living near the proposed site and others.

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