New research network to focus on phenomics to unlock secrets of diseases

The International Phenome Centre Network (IPCN), a new global research network linking leading research centrers across the world, said it may be able to greatly increase global research capabilities in the field of phenomics.

At a special presentation at the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) in Doha, Qatar recently, it said comprehensive analysis of biological fluids or tissue samples, phenomics examines how our lifestyles and the environment we are exposed to interact with our genes. It can help explain why some people develop disease when others don't.

IPCN said its mission is to better understand how variation in gene-environment interactions affects disease across the lifespan for different populations. Using robust and harmonized data sets representing the world's diverse populations, the new research will inform global public health policies and the development of new therapies.

"The world is facing an unprecedented confluence of environmental and lifestyle factors that are dramatically increasing the risks of chronic disease, and posing the greatest public health challenges seen in modern times," said Professor Jeremy Nicholson, Director of the MRC-NIHR National Phenome Centre (NPC) and Head of Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London. "The IPCN is creating internationally harmonized centers of analytical science focused on understanding gene-environment interactions that underpin disease risk, the comparative biology of major diseases, and addressing unmet healthcare and medical needs."

Initiated by the NPC at Imperial College London, the IPCN includes more than a dozen international partners with regional, multi-institutional hubs in Australia, Canada, mainland China, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Since 2012, the NPC has established best-practice laboratory and research methodologies in phenomics, and the new IPCN will share this knowledge around the globe.

"Phenomic research really is one of the next medical frontiers which can advance our understanding of a whole raft of diseases and conditions," said Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer of the United Kingdom. "The way we treat autism, cancers, mental health, stroke, obesity, metabolic diseases and type 2 diabetes could all be revolutionised by research in this area."

Professor James Best, Dean, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, welcomed the launch of IPCN, saying that through a partnership with IPCN, the Singapore Phenome Centre at Nanyang Technological University will have enhanced opportunity to collaborate internationally.

"By pooling data obtained with harmonised methodology and by sharing ideas, we will better understand the biochemical abnormalities underlying metabolic disorders such as diabetes," he said.

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