Global business connection, Elements of this image furnished by NASA
Global business connection, Elements of this image furnished by NASA

The International Phenome Centre Network (IPCN), a worldwide consortium of research centers focused on disease prevention, detection and treatment by better understanding the dynamic interactions of our genes and our environment in the development and progression disease, launched November 29 with the goal of tackling pressing global health challenges including autism, cancer, diabetes and dementia.

With its launch, the IPCN will significantly increase research capabilities by linking research facilities in Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, the U.S., and the U.K. The IPCN aims to establish a harmonized and validated scientific approach, in order to examine how lifestyle and the environment interact with individuals’ genes in order to explain why some people develop a disease, while others don’t.

“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,” said Professor Jeremy Nicholson, director of the MRC-NIHR National Phenome Centre (NPC) and head of department of surgery and cancer at Imperial College, London, which initiated the network. “The International Phenome Centre Network is creating internationally harmonized centers of analytical science focused on understanding gene-environment interactions that underpin disease risk, the comparative biology of major diseases, and addressing unmet healthcare and medical needs.”

The IPCN will serve as the formal body to share best practices in laboratory and research methodologies developed over the past the four years at the NPC. Standardizing the approach and harmonizing the way research is conducted at different center, around the globe will allow for easier methods to combine and leverage the data from separate phenomic studies. Researchers with IPCN believe this will allow for larger, more complex studies than would be otherwise possible, and less complex studies will be completed much faster than an individual center could do in isolation.

The center’s goals for the first five years include a focus on quality control to eliminate erroneous and inconsistent laboratory practices by employing a harmonized approach across multiple institutions worldwide. This will involve establishing a framework for quality, consistency and accuracy in data generation—from acquisition and processing to interpretation and visualization. IPCN will also focus on training and educating both scientific and clinical communities on the importance/relevance of the network’s approach, as well as public outreach to broaden awareness of metabolic phenotyping.

Longer term goals include deriving a better understanding of the biological underpinings of disease and its diagnosis, and development of clinically-deployable tests to enable rapid, accurate patient diagnosis and stratification.

“Phenomic research really is one of the next medical frontiers which can advance our understanding of a whole raft of diseases and conditions,” said Dame Sally Davies, MBChB, professor at Imperial College, London. “The way we treat autism, cancers, mental health, stroke, obesity, metabolic diseases, and type 2 diabetes could all be revolutionized by research in this area. It is also really good for work to cross international boundaries to find ways of tackling the biggest global public health challenges facing us today faster.”

Funding for the center will be via membership fees and also from the support of corporate partners Waters and Bruker—developers of the mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy technologies which make advanced, precise and efficient metabolic phenotyping possible.

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