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East London Genes & Health celebrates 4000th study participant and £5m funding boost

East London 44Genes & Health, the world’s largest community based genetics study, is celebrating its first milestone with 4000 local participants taking part so far. The research project has also received a funding boost of £5m from the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) to build an East London Genes & Health Population Genomic Medicine Centre on Newark Street, Whitechapel.

Launched in March 2015 and led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), East London Genes & Health aims to improve health among people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage in East London by analysing the genes and health of 100,000 local people.

The study’s 4000th participant is Mr Zoinul Abidin, who presents the Ramadan Special programme on BetarBangla 1503 AM – a community radio station which serves the Bangladeshi and wider communities in East London.

Commenting on taking part in the East London Genes & Health study, Mr Abidin said: “I am taking part to make a difference. I want to lead by example to encourage people from the local community to come forward and take part in this significant piece of research. I lost my father to diabetes and my mother also has it. In future years this research will play its part in saving lives, and I want to play my very small part in helping make a huge difference.“

Work on the new East London Genes & Health Population Genomic Medicine Centre will begin shortly and has been funded by HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund. The centre is also part of QMUL’s new Life Sciences Initiative.

The £5m HEFCE funding award, along with existing MRC funding, will be spent on equipping and fitting out three floors of the Abernethy building, part of QMUL’s Whitechapel campus, as a permanent base for the research project. This will include developing space and facilities to recall participants as part of the longer term research project, as well as establishing a designated public space and enhancing educational facilities.

The ground floor will be open to all in the local community, and will provide interactive education in genetics led by Centre of The Cell, QMUL’s science education centre also based in Whitechapel. The Centre will encourage interaction with other institutions, scientists and the private sector, and will be led by QMUL in partnership with University College London and Kings College London.

Professor David van Heel, leading the study at Queen Mary University of London, added: “Only five months into the East London Genes & Health study and we’re delighted to have reached this milestone of welcoming our 4000th participant. The local community has really got on board and shown their support for this important project and we look forward to building on this early success in the coming years.”

“By building a dedicated East London Genes & Health Population Genomic Medicine Centre in Whitechapel, we plan to cement our position as having a central role in the health, wellbeing and education of our local communities – now and in the future.”

Professor Richard Trembath, Dean of Life Sciences and Medicine at Kings College London, adds: “This funding award from the HEFCE Catalyst Fund is a hugely important contribution to the East London Genes & Health study and we look forward to collaborating with QMUL on this cutting-edge genetics project.”

In partnership with QMUL, East London Genes & Health is supported by Barts Health NHS Trust, local Clinical Commissioning Groups, local charity Social Action for Health.

About East London Genes & Health
The East London Genes & Health research project will study the genetic code and medical records of local South Asian people – with the aim of improving understanding of the links between genes and environmental factors in causing disease. These findings will then contribute to improving healthcare and the long-term prevention and treatment of a number of diseases particularly affecting local communities and the wider population, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Why is this study needed?
East London boroughs, and Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in particular, have some of the highest rates of poor health in the UK. For example:
•    Pakistani men have the highest rate of heart disease in the UK and the risk of dying early from heart disease is twice as high among South Asian groups compared with the general population.
•    People from South Asian communities are five times more likely to have type 2 diabetes than the general population.
•    Tower Hamlets and Newham have the lowest life expectancy of all London boroughs.

Who can take part and what does it involve?
East London Genes & Health is open to adults with and without health problems who regard themselves as of Bangladeshi, British-Bangladeshi, Pakistani or British-Pakistani origin. After giving consent, volunteers will donate a saliva sample which will then be examined for genetic information and this will be linked with an individual’s health records. Participation in the study is completely confidential, and no identifiable details (such as name or address) will be passed on or shared.

What happens next?
The East London Genes & Health study will work in two stages. Stage one, taking place over the next four years, will focus on recruiting 100,000 participants. Stage two, running until 2034, will focus on utilising the data gathered to support various local, national and international medical research, including recall of certain participants for further studies.