United Kingdom plans funding for six Genetics Knowledge Parks and two Genetics Reference Laboratories

London 16 January 2002British Secretary of State for Health Alan Milburn has launched plans for the first national network of Genetic Knowledge Parks to put Britain at the leading edge of advances in genetic technology which could transform treatments and services for National Health Service (NHS) patients. The first wave of six Genetics Knowledge Parks has been scheduled for operational activity in Oxford, Cambridge, London, the NorthWest, Newcastle, and in Wales. In addition, two new National Genetics Reference Laboratories will be established in Salisbury and Manchester.


The new Genetics Knowledge Parks will bring together on a single site, or in collaboration between sites, clinicians, scientists, academics, as well as industrial researchers. They will become centres of clinical and scientific excellence seeking to improve the diagnosis, treatment and counselling of patients. In turn, the Reference Laboratories will be specialised in assessing and developing new genetic tests and technologies for the benefit of patients. Both laboratories each will receive around AGBP 500.000 of funding per year.

The National Reference Labs will help the NHS to keep abreast of scientific and technology discoveries in genetics and develop new and improved genetic testing. They will explore better ways of working in laboratories, train NHS staff in the application of new genetic tests and technologies, and support the national NHS genetic testing network.

"The Genetics revolution is already underway and is changing the world in which we live, holding out the potential for new drugs and therapies, new means of preventing ill health and new ways of treating illness. In time, we should be able to assess the risk an individual has of developing disease, not just for single gene disorders like cystic fibrosis but for our country's biggest killers, cancer and coronary heart disease, as well as those disorders like diabetes which limit people's lives", Mr. Milburn stated.

Mr. Milburn also announced details of a successful virtual Genetics Knowledge Park for Wales. The joint successful bid between University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff University, and Techniquest, Cardiff's public centre for science discovery, will establish Wales' first gene park. "The potential is immense. Whilst genetics will never mean a disease-free existence, greater understanding of genetics is one of our best allies in the war against cancer. Advances in genetics will lead to a greater insight in the occurrence of cancer and its treatment", according to Mr. Milburn.

The Wessex Regional Genetics Laboratory in Salisbury will facilitate the translation of basic genetics and genomics research into clinical relevant and cost effective genetic services in helping reduce service development costs by comparing and evaluating emerging technologies. These include robotic technology in genetic analysis and the use of comparative genome hybridisation in chromosome abnormality testing.

The Salisbury National Genetics Reference Laboratory will work with independent quality assurance agencies to establish reference reagents for specific genetic conditions for which no scheme is currently operational. It will also undertake health technology assessment to compare methods of detecting point mutations and other sequence changes, perform tests for very rare genetic conditions, validate results which have been obtained in basic research laboratories, and provide education and training, as well as develop an on-line reference library to disseminate technical and clinical information.

The North-West Regional Genetics Service in Manchester will play a major role in bringing to the public the benefits of the Human Genome Project by providing a direct and dynamic link between research, assessment of new technologies, and service provision of the highest quality. It will develop new ways of reducing reporting times for genetic tests through "smart" workload management practices and high-throughput direct DNA sequence analysis. New testing services for families with very rare disorders, a platform for horizon scanning and evaluating the next generation of technologies, and generating models for integrating genetic medicine into other specialities are further aims to be fulfilled.

Next to the Genetics Knowledge challenge fund of AGBP 10 million, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, DTI Minister for Science and Innovation, has promised to allocate AGBP 5 million to the six new Genetics Knowledge Parks. As such, the London IDEAS Park, a term which stands for Innovation, Dissemination, Evaluation and Application Strategy for genetics across the community, will provide a comprehensive genetic information service both for the full spectrum of health professionals and for all members of the general public. The activities of London IDEAS will be divided into two main research units, being the Knowledge Dissemination Unit and the Genetics Application Unit.

The Cambridge Park will be an organisation of the many internationally renowned but currently separate academic, clinical, and commercial groups in and around Cambridge with the twin aims of fostering new research initiatives and collaborations, and of working synergistically towards a common goal. The North West Genetic Knowledge Park (NoWGEN) will create a Centre for Applied Genetics to house an ambitious multidisciplinary core research group working with user groups and the public to develop models and evidence to ensure delivery of the most effective genetic services.

The Northern Genetics Knowledge Park in Newcastle will deliver early fruits of its genetic research through commercial development, forging a strong regional capability in post-genomic technologies. Existing links with the NHS will be strengthened, enabling emerging discoveries to be evaluated and applied in innovative health care. An outstandingly successful forum for addressing public interest and concerns has been established in the International Centre for Life (ICfL), which will participate in the Park to promote genome-related education and ethical debate.

The Genetics Knowledge Park in Oxford will focus on cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, cancer, neurological and neuropsychiatric genetics, and inflammatory diseases. The Oxford GKP Group has the explicit aims of promoting, critically assessing and providing mechanisms for the expansion of molecular testing in clinical practice throughout the United Kingdom and overseas, to perform specific model projects in cardiovascular disease and cancer to demonstrate the viability of extending genetic testing in clinical practice, and to cause the transfer of technology and skills between research groups, the NHS, and private sector.

Leslie Versweyveld

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