At the opening of the Centre for Genetic Epidemiology on 1 October 2009, Winthrop Professor Lyler Palmer spoke of an extraordinary – even transcendent – time in the history of bioscience. This is an edited version of the speech.
We are in the midst of a major paradigm shift in our ability to understand the causes of common disease, powered by a genomics revolution. The Human Genome Project took 10 years and cost $3 billion. The same amount of sequencing can now be done in 10 hours. This revolution is transforming the fields of epidemiology, clinical medicine, and drug development beyond all recognition. How have we enabled this new science in WA?
Over the past six years, the genetic epidemiology group has been awarded more than $25 million of funding to create a series of key national enabling resources specifically designed to underpin large-scale gene discovery and translational clinical projects across the entire WA research sector. These resources include core facilities in medical informatics, genotyping and DNA banking and the national training facility in medical bioinformatics.
These core facilities, together with WA’s unique population-based resources and linked health data, have come to comprise one of the pre-eminent resources for human genetics in Australasia and are now underpinning many key Australian National Priority Area projects.
We are proud that this Centre has been able to work closely with our clinical collaborators to enable many existing exceptional UWA cohort resources for genetics research. Notably, these include the Busselton Health Study, the Health-in-Men Study, and the Raine Pregnancy Cohort Study.
The Centre has also been pro-active in developing and leading new, world-class resources in National Priority and other disease areas. These include cardiovascular disease, sleep health, stroke, intensive care research, macular degeneration, melanoma and the WA Twin Register.
We are enormously proud to be leading the next Busselton Health Survey – to be known as the Busselton Healthy Ageing Study – and to be continuing the vision of Dr Kevin Cullen and his family. Nationally, we have been active in leading the development of new research networks, including the Australasian Sleep Trials Network, the National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases, the Australian Brain Cancer Network, the Australasian network investigating sudden death in the young, and the national prostate cancer trials network.
We are tightly integrated with multiple research groups across Australia, and in North America and Europe. We have successfully enabled UWA medical researchers to take part in large international gene discovery consortia for diseases as diverse as diabetes, obesity, asthma, sleep apnoea, melanoma, lung function, birth weight, premature birth, and mental health – and, as members of these consortia (some of which we lead), we have found many new genes.
The day-to-day business of genetics research is as mundane as any other activity, and I certainly don’t intend to bore you with the details. Daily, our people deal with very complex and specific technical issues related to the collection and use of human medical research data. However, today is not a day when we speak of the mundane, but rather a day when we lift up our vision and speak to what is high and good in our society, in ourselves, and in our University.
We ultimately seek to discover the causes of common diseases, in some cases to revolutionise the way human genetic research is done, and to provide the basis for Australian leadership in this area. We seek to establish clinic- and community-based resources aimed at understanding and reducing the burden of disease in our children and in our aging population.
Our challenge is to translate the extraordinary advances in human genomics we are currently experiencing into meaningful changes in clinical and public health practice, and into new hope for all people.
This Centre chooses to meet these challenges head on, and all that goes with them - not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because we believe that these goals will serve to energize and measure the best of our talents and skills, and because these challenges are ones that we are willing to accept and that we intend to win.
- This is an edited version of his speech at the opening of the Centre for Genetic Epidemiology on 1 October 2009.