Genetix partners with British Medical Research Council to build verified human protein interaction map

London 22 July 2002One of the United Kingdom's largest studies into the role of proteins in health and disease has been launched. Under the LINK Programme in Applied Genomics, Genetix Group plc in New Milton and the Medical Research Council's Human Genome Mapping Project Resource Centre (MRC HGMPRC) in Cambridge have formed a 2,5 million pounds sterling collaboration. The project is being funded by the British Department of Trade and Industry, the Medical Research Council, and Genetix.

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The three year collaboration aims to develop equipment and systems that will dramatically speed up the process of identifying the role of proteins in human health and disease by generating maps showing how different proteins interact with each other to perform important biological functions in the body.

Genetix is a provider of robots and systems for molecular biological research. Its robotics were used in most of the major public and private laboratories involved in the Human Genome Project and for post-genomic research. The MRC HGMPRC is one of the United Kingdom centres for functional genomics research, which aims to advance medical research through the science of simultaneous analysis of thousands of genes.

Following the international effort to map and sequence the human genome, first completed in 2000, scientists now estimate that it contains at least 30.000 genes, which provide the instructions for making up the human body. The primary role of these genes is to encode proteins, the smallest building blocks of life, which make up the cells in the body and enable them to function.

The role of proteins is now seen as the next key step in turning the information gathered during the human genome sequence project to practical use in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Different proteins give each cell its differentiated characteristic. For a cell to function, proteins within the cell need to interact with each other, forming complex networks of interacting proteins which regulate genes or cellular processes such as division and replication.

The LINK Award will fund the development of instrumentation and systems required to map these interactions to gain a better understanding of how proteins function. The project will initially use yeast as a medium, later switching to mammalian cells so that the protein interactions can be validated in humans. This knowledge will be used by scientists and researchers throughout the world to:

  • advance the understanding of how proteins interact to perform complex biological processes
  • identify the causes of disease
  • develop novel drugs against specific protein targets

To measure interactions between the protein products of the estimated 30.000-50.000 genes would generate approximately one billion data points. Existing techniques, performed by hand, are slow and cumbersome producing many false positives and negatives. The expectation is that the new system will relieve bottlenecks in the study of protein interactions by increasing the throughput 1000 times.

Dr. Julian Burke, Scientific Director of Genetix, stated: "The LINK funding will combine leading MRC molecular biologists with Genetix' expertise in creating solutions for high-throughput biology. Our skills in systems integration, software development and microbiology will allow us to produce high specification applications. This will enable the mapping of thousands of human protein-protein interactions to be undertaken with a high degree of accuracy and in considerably less time than is currently possible, helping to bring forward the medical benefits of this knowledge."

Dr. Duncan Campbell, Director of the MRC HGMPRC, emphasised the importance of the collaboration: "This partnership between Genetix and the MRC will provide United Kingdom researchers with an outstanding opportunity to play a significant part in a world wide initiative to build maps which show how human cells work. An overwhelming amount of information has been produced by mapping the human genome but it will only be fully useful with a manual or map to help us understand how the component parts work to complete the whole."

Dr. Chris Sanderson, Project Coordinator at the MRC HGMPRC, added: "The importance of these maps to medical research is indisputable, but the challenge facing researchers is to make maps that are comprehensive and accurate. This can only be achieved by developing new technologies, which allow us to investigate many different types of protein-protein interactions faster. This funding has enabled us to bring together all of the necessary expertise to help us succeed."

The LINK Programme in Applied Genomics is the largest Biotechnology LINK programme, with 15 million GBP funding from the Department of Trade and Industry, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and MRC, to be matched by equal funding from industry. Launched in July 2000, it has recommended funding 15 industrial/academic collaborative projects, 14 of which involve at least one SME. The projects cover a wide range of aspects of applied genomics, including human, pathogen and model organism research, proteomics, bioinformatics, clinical projects, and genome screens.

The Medical Research Council has funded work which has led to some of the most significant discoveries and achievements in medicine in the United Kingdom. About half of the MRC's expenditure of over 367 million pounds is invested in its 50 Institutes, Units and Centres, where it employs its own research staff. The remaining half goes in the form of grant support and training awards to individuals and teams in universities and medical schools.

The MRC Human Genome Mapping Project Resource Centre is a national facility funded by the Medical Research Council and carries out research in functional and comparative genomics. It provides a bioinformatics service and access to leading edge resources and services to researchers worldwide.

Genetix Group plc provides automated systems and services for genomic and proteomic research. It supplies many academic institutions worldwide including the Max Planck Institute and major international companies involved in the drug discovery process including GSK, AstraZeneca, and Novartis. Genetix made a significant contribution to the Human Genome Project by supplying high-throughput equipment to seven of the eight laboratories of the consortia.


Leslie Versweyveld

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