London 2012 legacy to include medical research centre

The anti-doping facilities serving the London 2012 Games will become a “groundbreaking” research centre into personalised medicine after the Olympics have ended, it has been announced.

The MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre will rapidly analyse large numbers of blood and urine samples to search for biomarkers linking certain subpopulations with susceptibility to specific diseases. It will be available to academics as well as to pharmaceutical companies interested in developing safer and more targeted treatments.

The centre will inherit the equipment and expertise of the London Games’ anti-doping facilities, based at GlaxoSmithKline’s research and development facility in Harlow, Essex, and operated by King’s College London.

King’s will also be one of a number of academic and commercial partners in the Phenome Centre, which will be led by Imperial College London.

The centre’s director, Jeremy Nicholson, head of the department of surgery and cancer at Imperial, said: “The possibilities offered by the centre are groundbreaking, as it will provide new ways of understanding the complex interactions between people’s genes and their environment that determine their disease risks.

“Metabolic profiling will give us a new dimension of understanding about the factors that contribute to disease, as well as crucial information for predicting how individual patients are likely to respond to treatment.”

The centre will be funded with two five-year grants of £5 million from the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research.

Sir John Savill, chief executive of the MRC, said the centre would provide a “phenomenal” Olympic legacy.

“The GSK drug-testing facility has taken one of the major challenges associated with this type of research – achieving high-throughput alongside forensic quality control – to a new level, unprecedented anywhere in the world,” he said.

The MRC is also a major funder, alongside the Wellcome Trust, of the UK Biobank, which opened earlier this year. The biobank contains biological data and samples obtained from half a million volunteers.

An MRC spokeswoman said it was hoped the Phenome Centre would carry out analyses of the biobank’s samples.

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