Major European grant for research into rare diseases

Posted by pt91 at Jan 18, 2018 04:54 PM |
University of Leicester co-leads international consortium to undertake diagnostics of the future

Issued by University of Leicester on 18 January 2018

The University of Leicester has joined an international programme of research to improve the diagnosis of rare diseases.

A large consortium led by the University of Tübingen, the Radboud university medical center Nijmegen, and co-led by the University of Leicester, with 19 other partner organisations, has acquired a €15 million grant for the 'SOLVE-RD' research program.

The consortium will use the funding to improve the diagnosis of rare diseases. The researchers will work directly with four European reference networks (or ERNs): European networks of care providers set up to share and enhance the knowledge and resources used for treating rare diseases.

Professor Anthony Brookes, of the Department of Genetics & Genome Biology at the University of Leicester, stressed: “Patients with a rare disease often have to wait years before a genetic diagnosis is made, and for more than half of all patients the standard diagnostic approaches do not succeed. The Solve-RD project is therefore looking at how to improve the diagnostic success rate, and speed up the process."

Collectively rare diseases are common. While for a given rare disease, the number of people will be extremely low, the very large number of such rare diseases means that collectively, their number in Europe runs into hundreds of thousands. In recent years, it has become clear that the ‘eye’ of a doctor alone often will not suffice to diagnose a rare disease. So we need better genetic tests to diagnose rare diseases, and better informatics systems for finding, sharing and analyzing data, in ethically appropriate and secure ways.

This is where SOLVE-RD, a large-scale research program operating under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020, comes in. The academic partners taking part in SOLVE-RD have designed an infrastructure enabling the coordination and analysis of all data generated across Europe. Combining the existing exome and genome patient data of all collaborators of SOLVE-RD greatly increases the chances of finding a second or a third patient with the same rare disease. The commitment for sharing data on rare diseases on this scale is unique.

Professor Brookes also explained that SOLVE-RD goes a few steps further by applying the latest available ‘multi-omics’ methods. If the DNA data illuminate a particular disease, researchers turn to other large scale tests that reflect the gene’s function such as RNA, the proteins (proteomics), metabolic products (metabolomics) and epigenomics. Combining these ‘…omics’ techniques provides the extra information that may ensure that a rare disease is diagnosed. The enormous amount of data resulting from this multi-omics approach must be converted into useful, comprehensible information by bioinformatic scientists using smart algorithms.

Virtual networks

SOLVE-RD is a unique project, because the research for better diagnostics of rare diseases is directly linked to better care at the European level in 24 Reference Networks (ERNs). These ERNs were set up to improve and harmonize diagnosis and treatment for people suffering from rare diseases. Using shared knowledge and guidelines, a patient in Romania, for example, will receive the same diagnostics and treatment as a patient in Sweden or Spain. The virtual networks collectively pool all existing knowledge and remove unnecessary boundaries.

Diagnostics of the future

SOLVE-RD comprises four ERNs for rare neurological diseases (RND), neuromuscular diseases (EURO-NMD), congenital malformations and intellectual disability (ITHACA) and genetic tumor risk syndromes (GENTURIS). These ERNs are the first to add and share their patient data, thereby taking the lead in improving the diagnosis and treatment of these rare diseases. Other ERNs will join SOLVE-RD later. In this way, SOLVE-RD will have a significant impact on our knowledge and clinical practice when it comes to diagnosing and treating rare diseases in Europe.

  • This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 779257.

Ends

Notes to editors:

More information here: http://www.solve-rd.eu/

For interviews contact: Professor Anthony Brookes on ajb97@leicester.ac.uk

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