Patients set to benefit from new Genomic Medicine Centre in the West of England

Patients in the West of England are set to benefit from a new NHS Genomic Medicine Centre based in Bristol.

A partnership made up of NHS provider organisations in Bristol, Bath, Cheltenham and Gloucestershire, universities, the West of England AHSN, NHS commissioners and Health Education South West has been designated the West of England NHS Genomic Medicine Centre (WEGMC).

The centre will be part of the three-year project launched by the Prime Minister launched by the Prime Minister, to transform diagnosis and treatment for patients with cancer and rare diseases.

This involves collecting and decoding 100,000 human genomes – complete sets of people’s genes – that will enable scientists and doctors to understand more about specific conditions. It could allow personalisation of drugs and other treatments to specific genetic variants.

Clinicians from the hospitals involved will recruit potentially eligible patients. Then patients choosing to be involved will take part in a test which will then be processed in a lab at Southmead Hospital, before being sent nationally for sequencing.

Some of the patients involved could benefit from a quicker conclusive diagnosis for a rare and inherited disease or cancer because treatment may be targeted at a particular genetic change.

Patients at the heart of the project

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP said, “The opening of this centre, as part of our revolutionary 100,000 Genomes Project to sequence the genomes of NHS patients with cancer and rare diseases, underlines the UK’s position as a world leader in 21st century medicine.

“Patients are at the heart of the project. That’s why we have chosen NHS sites like this to sequence DNA on an unprecedented scale, which will bring better treatments to people with rare diseases and cancer in the West of England.”

Transformative possibilities

Tony Gallagher, Chair of WEGMC, said “This is an important step forward for patients and the development of future treatments in the West of England. Working together we have teams of dedicated and experienced doctors, nurses, counsellors, scientists, managers, commissioners and academics who are committed to realising the transformative possibilities that genomic medicine offers to patients in our area.”

Creating ground-breaking discoveries

Caroline Gamlin, NHS England South West Medical Director, said: “This is a huge tribute to the quality of our medical science in the west. Our local doctors will help to create ground-breaking discoveries about diseases, predict who is susceptible and design personalised treatments to tackle them.”

The national project to sequence 100,000 genomes was announced by the Prime Minister in 2012 in a bid to transform diagnosis and treatment for patients with cancer and rare diseases in the fast-emerging field of genomic medicine. NHS England established 11 NHS Genomic Medicine Centres (GMCs) in 2014. A year on, two more GMCs have been announced – one for the West of England and the second in Yorkshire and Humber.

An individualised approach to patient care

Professor Ruth Newbury-Ecob is a leading member of the West of England partnership. She works in the Clinical Genetics Service at University Hospitals Bristol which provides genetic services for Bristol, Bath Gloucestershire and Somerset. Specialising in rare diseases including inherited cardiac conditions, she works with colleagues  at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and the Bristol Heart Institute to provide specialist multidisciplinary care She works closely with the Regional Genetics Laboratory at North Bristol NHS Trust to develop new genetic testing, translating research findings into NHS services for patients across the UK.

She said, “Genomics has the potential to transform healthcare by developing a more tailored individualised approach to patient care and through better screening and targeting treatments to prevent development of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The West of England partnership has brought together multiple interested parties for the first time to bring about this wonderful transformation in healthcare.”

Humbling and inspiring

Patients are involved in planning the new service. Deborah Evans, Managing Director of the West of England AHSN, said, “In recent weeks I’ve been involved in interviews with people locally who have experienced rare diseases or cancer and their carers, and we have gathered very rich and useful insights that will help us plan our new services.

“It has been humbling and inspiring to hear first-hand these stories from people who, when faced with cancer or a rare familial disease, have not only coped with extraordinary life-changing challenges for themselves or their families, but still have the commitment to contribute more for other people through this research which will play such an important role in the future of medicine and treatment.”

Tara Mistry from Bristol said: “As someone with personal experience of cancer, with a diagnosis before the age of 40 and with two young daughters having grown up under the shadow of their mother’s surgery and subsequent treatments, this news of the Genomic Medicine Centre for the West of England is just fantastic.

“I’m so pleased that I and other patients have been involved in helping design aspects of this new service from a patient perspective because we have enormous interest in making this work for the prevention of illness in our children and communities. It’s so good to feel that this service can help target treatments to individuals and so make us less sick while being treated and hopefully eliminate the disease altogether – so my daughters and others may not have to go through this in their lives. I look forward to being more involved as this project unfolds.”

Vital research

Adele Webb has also been involved in the patient and carer interviews. She said: “I am delighted that the West of England has been successful in its application to join the 100,000 Genome Project. This is our chance to contribute to an initiative that has the potential to impact not only on the health of people across the world, but also for future generations of our families.  Since I have personal experience of a rare disorder within my family, I  am particularly heartened to know that we can contribute towards the research that is so vital.”

Professor Aniko Varadi from the University of the West of England in Bristol will lead the work in education and training. She said, “It is critical that the workforce in the NHS is educated and trained to ensure the effective delivery of genomic technologies. The education and training programme supports the delivery of the 100,000 Genomes Project but it goes well beyond that. The ultimate aim is that the next generation of clinicians, scientists and multi-disciplinary healthcare teams have the awareness, knowledge and capacity to apply genomics to clinical practice.”


Gloucestershire Hospitals’ Biophotonics Research Unit scoop innovation award

The Staff Awards 2015 for Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust took place at Hatherley Manor last month, celebrating the hard work, loyalty and dedication of teams and individuals across the organisation.

The West of England AHSN was delighted to sponsor the Innovation Award, which was won by Professor Hugh Barr, Dr Catherine Kendall, Dr Gavin Lloyd of the Biophotonics Research Unit (BRU) team.

They were selected for their commitment to high quality research and innovation to improve the diagnosis and treatment of patients – and also for that very special ability which each of them has to inspire others – their colleagues, their peers and the scientists and clinicians of the future.

The application of this science holds enormous potential for improving the diagnosis and treatment of disease, including cancer

Progress in medicine and clinical care would never come about without the skills and enthusiasm of our researchers and innovators. A number of the Trust’s clinicians and scientists have been at the leading edge of novel advances in medicine over the years – and amongst this group are the members of the BRU team.

Biophotonics is the science of the interaction of light with tissue, which holds enormous potential for improving the diagnosis and treatment of disease, including cancer.

The BRU is a multidisciplinary team of clinicians and scientists working closely together, focused on translating science into the clinical environment and driving innovation forward.

The Unit was established 20 years ago by Professor Barr, a Consultant Upper GI Surgeon, who was inspired to develop new ways of diagnosing and treating disease – in particular oesophageal cancer. He remains Clinical Lead for the Unit, alongside Dr Catherine Kendall, Consultant Clinical Scientist who is the Scientific Lead. Dr Gavin Lloyd is a research fellow, with expertise in the field of chemometrics (data analysis).

The Unit creates opportunities for a wider team of clinicians and scientists to carry out high quality research and to gain higher degrees. Their contribution is invaluable in developing the research, which is funded by national and international grants.

The research focuses particularly on the clinical applications of Raman and Infrared spectroscopy. These technologies are being developed as a diagnostic platform for a range of clinical applications.

Collaborations both national, international and with industry are vital for the development of this research, in particular with Prof Nick Stone at the University of Exeter and Dr John Day at University of Bristol. Commercialisation aspects of the work are explored in conjunction with NHS Innovations SW.

A particular strength is that the Unit is not isolated, but is embedded as a recognised department within the Trust, much valued by colleagues for the wider contribution which it makes to the work of the hospitals.

As well as being outstanding in their clinical and scientific fields, each of these three colleagues also have a very special ability to communicate their science and to inspire others – their colleagues, their peers, and through their work with young people, the scientists and clinicians of the future.

The United Nations designated 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies, which makes it all the more fitting to these three leading members of the Biophotonics Research Unit won this award this year.