Northern hub for genomic medicine

The University of Sheffield could be the creative hub of a connected community of genomic researchers, cutting edge data analysts and healthcare professionals across the north of England, in a vision being driven by former Harvard Professor, Win Hide.

Professor Win Hide“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to harness our research capabilities in genomics and data analytics to transform healthcare, not only across the Northern Powerhouse, but the wider world,” says genome scientist Professor Hide.

“What we are doing is a paradigm shift. We are creating an analytics group of superb quants: scientists who are not working for themselves, but for the University and the city of Sheffield. Their job is to help biomedical researchers, genome scientists and frontline clinicians to interpret the data they are generating and turn it into best practice genomic medicine to save lives and improve healthcare.”

The goal of genomic medicine is to use our understanding of how our genomes affect health and disease to develop a much more individualised medical approach, leading to more precise and personal healthcare.

His comments come after the government announced the creation of a Genomic Medicine Centre (GMC) linking Sheffield and Leeds as part of the 100,000 Genomes project, to transform healthcare and kick-start the UK’s genomics industry.

“Genomic medicine is an opportunity to turn the scientific discoveries about DNA and how it works into active steps to improve the lives of future patients and identify lifesaving and life improving treatments,” said Simon Morritt, Chair of the recently established Yorkshire and Humber GMC Partnership Board, and Chief Executive of Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

Professor Hide’s drive to create the Sheffield hub also chimes with the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement last year of a £20 million initiative, Connected Health Cities, which will bring the power of data analytics to improve healthcare in the north.

The key to success is community, Sheffield understands community, it is in its DNA. The future for us is about building linkages between cities and having the infrastructure in place that promotes collaboration. We need to bring industry, investors, clinicians, regional and national policy makers, into a wider data commons built upon a community of collaboration.

Professor win hide

“The key to success is community,” says Professor Hide, who has helped establish a world-leading bioinformatics infrastructures in environments as diverse of the University of the Western Cape, in South Africa, and Harvard in the United States. “Sheffield understands community, it is in its DNA. The future for us is about building linkages between cities and having the infrastructure in place that promotes collaboration. We need to bring industry, investors, clinicians, regional and national policy makers, into a wider data commons built upon a community of collaboration.”

He draws inspiration not just from his experience in South Africa, where he built a national bioinformatics infrastructure from scratch, or from Harvard, where he helped one of the world’s top universities raise its game to catch, and eventually overtake, its rival Johns Hopkins in public health genomics. But it is what happened in Brazil that Professor Hide finds really inspiring. There, a small group of highly motivated people won state funding for a genome project to sequence the bacterial pathogen Xylella.

“Their work not only made the cover of Nature, it also provided a model for how to create a bioinformatics community. They did this by distributing the project through several cities, by collaborating and combining talent and data across a huge state – it has a population of 44 million. We can leverage that paradigm in Sheffield,” he said.

His vision is to launch an analytics centre that will “allow for the first time; scientists and clinicians in the city of Sheffield to do world class analysis of their projects and furthermore to propose and secure new levels of high throughput biological analysis that has not been possible before, all within an integrated framework that allows them to find new insights that they had never dreamt they could see before. We do this by hiring the world’s best to work for us – which we are doing now – and in parallel with this we develop a relationship with our customers, the people whose lives we want to impact.”

What is a genome?

– Your genome is the set of instructions for making and maintaining you. It is written in a chemical code called DNA. All living things have a genome; plants, bacteria, viruses and animals.
– Your genome is all 3.2 billion letters of your DNA. It contains around 20,000 genes.
– Genes are the instructions for making the proteins our bodies are built of.
- From the keratin in hair and fingernails to the antibody proteins that fight infection.
– Genes make up about 1-5% of your genome.

SOURCE genomicsengland.co.uk