December 2016 | Issue 27
New network will hunt the missing link between genes, environment and lifestyle

Almost two out of three deaths worldwide each year are now caused by non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, and metabolic, cardiovascular and chronic lung diseases. These diseases cannot be explained by genetics alone, but arise from the complex interplay between genes, environment and lifestyle.

To tackle this rapidly rising threat, a new global network linking leading research centres across the world was launched on 29 November. Known as the International Phenome Centre Network, it is led by Imperial’s MRC-NIHR National Phenome Centre and consists of more than 12 participating institutions, including LKCMedicine, which span the globe from Australia to the US.

MRC-NIHR National Phenome Centre Director and LKCMedicine Visiting Professor Jeremy Nicholson said, “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.”

The mission of the network is to tackle this pressing global health challenge through harmonised research in phenomics that can help determine why some people develop disease and others don’t. Analysing the phenomic profile of the world’s diverse populations using the same protocols, the network hopes to make it easier to combine and compare data sets.

This means that larger, more complex studies can be undertaken and less complex studies can be completed much faster than an individual centre could do in isolation. This kind of research has the potential to drive healthcare innovation from global public health policies to the development of new therapies.

LKCMedicine Dean Professor James Best said, “In Singapore, we welcome the launch of the International Phenome Centre Network. Through this partnership, the Singapore Phenome Centre 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.”

The Singapore Phenome Centre, launched in 2015, is an interdisciplinary research platform that brings together the expertise of LKCMedicine, NTU’s School of Biological Sciences and the Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences. It seeks to have a better understanding of phenomes, and shed light on how these physical and biochemical traits are produced by the interactions between genes and environmental factors. 

In addition to Singapore, the International Phenome Centre Network also counts regional and multi-hub institutions in Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Taiwan, the US and UK among its members.