The first five years
When the MRC Centre for Genomics and Global Health (CGGH) was founded, in 2008, the application of genomics to global health was in its infancy. Over the past five years, we’ve focused on enabling the integration of genomic approaches into multi-centre clinical and epidemiological studies in the developing world. Working collaboratively, we’ve established the necessary infrastructure to support this work including developing community standards for data-sharing, systems to integrate large-scale datasets, and web-based tools to empower clinical researchers to utilise new technologies and statistical methods for genomic epidemiology.
In the process, we've catalysed an international network of multidisciplinary expertise that is now leveraging these scientific advances to undertake large-scale and definitive genomic epidemiology studies. Initially we focused on malaria due to the complexity of the scientific challenges; moving ahead we will support similar studies on other pathogens.
Moving towards near real-time genomic surveillance
A fundamental problem in infectious disease is that pathogens and vectors are continually evolving, such that disease control efforts can eventually lead to emergence of resistant strains and rebound of disease in a less controllable form. Surveillance is essential to provide early warning of the emergence of resistant or virulent strains, and to plan and execute an effective response once resistance has emerged. Genomics is now well-positioned to contribute to these surveillance efforts. The starting point is for researchers around the world to work together and focus on identifying common forms of genetic variation in the global population and then map the changes and movements in order to understand how it starts and how it spreads.
With strong scientific foundations for large-scale genomic epidemiological studies now in place, we will be strategically extending our research into two key areas. The first is genetic micro-epidemiology, where will we support researchers who are investigating evolution at the local level by building tools to gather genetic data at high spatial resolution and in near real-time. The second is methods for data integration and mapping, which will produce maps that monitor patterns of disease transmission and emerging resistance by developing methods to integrate genetic and epidemiological data from multiple sources.Taken together with our current research, these new lines of inquiry have the potential to support control and elimination efforts by providing crucial reconnaissance to inform decision-making and evaluate the impact of disease control efforts.
The MRC Centre for Genomics and Global Health (CGGH) is a partnership between the University of Oxford and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Over the next five years, we will consolidate our operations through two new strategic initiatives at these host institutions.
At the University of Oxford, the CGGH will be a core part of the Big Data Institute (BDI) when it opens in 2016. The BDI will be a centre of excellence for the analysis of large and complex data sets for health research. The BDI’s main areas of activity will be epidemiology, and genomics and infectious disease surveillance, with the goal of developing innovative statistical and computational approaches for large-scale data analysis across these domains.
At the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the CGGH’s activities will be closely integrated with the Malaria and Pathogen programmes, and with the Centre for Genomic Pathogen Surveillance (CGPS). The CGPS is a new initiative on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus that will generate genomic data on samples from a global network of sentinel sites to monitor the emergence and spread of pathogenic agents and drug resistance.