Public Release: 

'Dating agency' boosts hunt for disease genes

University of Manchester

Doctors and scientists nationwide will today for the first time be able to join together over the internet to start the search for genes that underlie a range of chronic diseases.

Patients across Britain with cancer, heart and other common diseases have been providing blood samples for research since 2000. They are part of a project hosted by The University of Manchester that will allow more researchers than ever before to study genes in chronic diseases. The project - called the UK DNA Banking Network - was initiated in 1999 as a scientific infrastructure with government funding via the Medical Research Council.

"The infrastructure is already up and running for handling patient samples. Now what we've done is to create a sort of scientists' dating agency and shop," explains the Director of the Network's archive, Dr Martin Yuille (University of Manchester). "Vetted scientists can find on the website both data and materials about a disease. Then, they can 'date' a collaborator, design an experiment together and make an online wish list of patients' DNAs that they need."

The DNA Network provides web access by registered researchers to detailed summaries of data on patients whose anonymity is assured. The researchers hone their hypotheses in collaboration with the clinicians who are the custodians of the samples provided by patients. The new collaborators then request top quality research materials from the DNA Network's archive.

"The significance of this development is that it builds on the success of the Human Genome Project. This discovered all our genes - and revealed that biologists now need serious logistics for this type of research," says Dr Yuille. "The UK DNA Banking Network is leading the world in providing a sample and data infrastructure to tackle the challenge of uncovering the genetic pathways of complex disease."

Dr Kate Dixon, who manages the archive at the Centre for Integrated Genomic Medical Research (CIGMR) at The University of Manchester, adds: "The archive manages tens of thousands of samples for a dozen diseases. Now we are using the internet to sort out the logistics of distribution."

Simon Pullum, the chief executive of Azura Group, a technology consultancy in Essex used by the DNA Network, says: "The software is designed to be compatible with any database architecture. This will help the scientists bring in more collaborators and more data types."

The website is at www.dna-network.ac.uk.

The UK clinicians in the Network are experts in gut, breast and white blood cell cancers, heart attacks and high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, old age blindness, childhood asthma and eczema. The clinicians leading each national disease collection are based in London, Exeter, Cardiff, Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham, Leeds, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Samples and data are managed at a robotic archive in the University of Manchester and in the Health Protection Agency's European Collection of Cell Cultures labs in Salisbury.

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For more information, contact
University of Manchester Media Relations Officers Mikaela Sitford on 0161 275 2111 or 07768 980942 or Mikaela.Sitford@manchester.ac.uk or Jo Nightingale on 0161 275 8156 or Jo.Nightingale@manchester.ac.uk.

Notes for Editors
UK DNA Banking Network
The Network comprises two parts:
1. Custodians of collections. These are:
Contact custodians
Prof David Linch, University College London, Acute leukaemia
Dr Andrew Webster, Institute of Ophthalmology London, Age-related macular degeneration
Prof William Cookson, Imperial College London, Asthma and eczema
Prof Ellen Solomon, King's College London, Breast cancer
Dr Harry Campbell, University of Edinburgh, Colorectal cancer
Prof Nilesh J Samani
Prof Alistair Hall, University of Leicester
University of Leeds, Coronary Heart Disease
Prof Andy Rees, University of Aberdeen, Glomerulonephritis
Prof Mark Caulfield, St Bart's and Royal London, Hypertension
Prof Julie Williams, University of Wales Cardiff, Late onset Alzheimer's disease
Prof Alastair Compston, University of Cambridge, Multiple Sclerosis
Dr Carl Clarke, University of Birmingham, Parkinson's Disease
Prof Andrew Hattersley, Exeter University, Type 2 diabetes
Prof Peter McGuffin, Institute of Psychiatry London, Unipolar depression

2. Banking infrastructure. This is provided in the University of Manchester at the Centre for Integrated Genomic Medical Research CIGMR) and in European Collection of Cell Cultures at HPA Salisbury. The Principal Investigators for the infrastructure are: Archive Director Dr Martin Yuille; CIGMR Director Prof Bill Ollier; ECACC General Manager Dr David Lewis and Prof Jane Worthington (University of Manchester).

Collection of samples was funded in 2000 at a cost of over £8 million. The infrastructure was funded from 2003 at a cost of £2 million. The funding was provided by the Medical Research Council.

Azura
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Medical Research Council
The Medical Research Council (MRC) is a national organisation funded by the UK tax-payer. Its business is medical research aimed at improving human health; everyone stands to benefit from the outputs. The research it supports and the scientists it trains meet the needs of the health services, the pharmaceutical and other health-related industries and the academic world. MRC has funded work which has led to some of the most significant discoveries and achievements in medicine in the UK. About half of the MRC's expenditure of approximately £500 million is invested in its 40 Institutes, Units and Centres. The remaining half goes in the form of grant support and training awards to individuals and teams in universities and medical schools. Web site at: www.mrc.ac.uk.

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