Scientists adopt fresh approach in quest for new therapies

November 26, 2007

Scientists are to pool their expertise in human health to pioneer an innovative approach to treating common diseases.

A new institute in Edinburgh brings together research specialists in every area of human biology, from the basic genetics of health through to the issues surrounding end-of-life care.

The Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine (IGMM) - opened officially today - has been formed in partnership by the Medical Research Council (MRC), the University of Edinburgh, and Cancer Research UK.

IGMM - spearheaded by Professor Nick Hastie from the MRC's Human Genetics Unit - will combine expertise in illnesses such as schizophrenia, cancer, arthritis and bowel disease, with the aim of learning lessons from each condition that could inform others. The role that genes have in disease development will also be an essential element of the research programme.

One major focus of the institute is to develop non-toxic cancer treatments that could prevent tumours spreading around the body, thus helping people to live with cancer as a chronic condition, like diabetes, rather than die from it.

Professor Hastie, director of the institute, said: "Research into targeted, protracted treatment of cancer is a perfect example of what can happen when scientists join forces.

"This institute heralds a new dawn of discovery science for human health. Here we can study every phase of human biology from genetic determinants of disease to the way lifestyle factors affect our health, and together achieve our goal of offering more effective and personalised medical treatment."

A research programme, led by Cancer Research UK's Professor Margaret Frame, will study signal transduction pathways - the biochemical mechanisms that allow cancers to spread - and develop ways of halting that process to prolong and improve a patient's quality of life.

Prof Frame, Chair of Cancer Biology at the University of Edinburgh, said: "After years of ground-breaking research, we have become much better at detecting and treating many forms of cancer. But there are still many cancers that are resistant to current therapies, and there is a real need to discover new ways of slowing down the spread of the disease.

"It's time for a new approach. Cancer specialists are experts in studying tumours, but if, for example, we want to stop breast cancers spreading to the spine, we need to learn from experts in bone disease. This new institute will facilitate that process by prompting scientists and doctors in different disciplines to work together and help us to develop entirely new ways of thinking about cancer treatment."

The institute, expected to bring £150m of research activity over the next five years, will establish a unique working environment for over 500 scientists in Edinburgh and will provide opportunities for: New research at IGMM will draw strongly on established initiatives, such as Generation Scotland - a nationwide study looking at the inherited risk of health and disease.
IGMM is based at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, and incorporate the MRC Human Genetics Unit, the University of Edinburgh Centre for Molecular Medicine and the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre. It will have full access to the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility.

Notes to Editors

For more information and high-res photography please contact:

Pauline Mullin
MRC Regional Communication Manager
The Queen's Medical Research Institute
47 Little France Crescent
Office: 0131 242 6426
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About the Medical Research Council

The Medical Research Council funds excellent science with the aim of improving human health. Its work ranges from science at the molecular level to public health research carried out in universities, hospitals and a network of units and institutes. The MRC works closely with the Health Departments, the National Health Service and industry to take account of the public's needs. The results have led to some of the most significant discoveries in medical science and benefited millions of people in the UK and around the world.

About Cancer Research UK

Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer. Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer.

Cancer Research UK ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients.

Cancer Research UK helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make.

Cancer Research UK works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer.

University of Edinburgh

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