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Secretary of State opens new genetics laboratory at Royal Brompton

5 December 2013

Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, has officially opened a new genetics and genomics laboratory at Royal Brompton Hospital, which will dramatically improve healthcare for families affected by inherited cardiac disease.

The new £2 million facility – a joint venture between the Trust and Imperial College London – is a flagship development of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit (BRU), translating research into NHS practice. 

The state-of-the-art laboratory will provide Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust patients (as well as the wider NHS) with vastly improved access to genetic tests. It will enable much quicker gene testing for those clinically diagnosed with – or a family member who is at risk of – an inherited cardiac condition.

Genetic testing is currently difficult to access for a large number of cardiac patients due to the high cost and slow turnaround – each of a large number of possible causative genes typically being tested sequentially at a cost of between £500-£1,500 per gene; a process which can take years.

From next year, however, experts working in this new facility will use next-generation DNA sequencing (NGS) technology, to simultaneously examine all cardiac genes known to cause inherited cardiac disease – something which has not been possible until now.

The result will mean one single test – costing the NHS around £500 – which will deliver rapid results within 2-3 weeks. 

Professor Dudley Pennell, cardiovascular biomedical research unit director, said: “The newly-refurbished facility, officially opened by the Secretary of State today, underpins the Trust’s commitment to translate cutting-edge research on the genetic causes of heart disease, into improvements in the diagnosis and treatments available for NHS patients.

“Patients will in future benefit from unprecedented access to genetic testing which is fast, equitable and inexpensive.”

Following a £1.4 million grant from the Health Innovation Challenge Fund (HIC Fund) – a funding partnership between the Department of Health and Wellcome Trust – earlier this year, a team led by the Trust’s director of genetics, Professor Stuart Cook, has been working to establish a diagnostic test combined with a comprehensive database of variants of the 200 genes that are important for heart disease. 

The result of this work will transform the way some patients are treated for inherited cardiac conditions. Currently, for instance, when a patient presents with cardiomyopathy this would commonly lead to a process of gene testing of their siblings and children – a cascade factor, on average, of five other people. This, in turn, would result in all five patients being followed-up for long-term care, including repeated imaging and outpatient appointments. 

Professor Pennell explained: “As a direct result of the work taking place in the new genetics laboratory, those found to not carry the gene can be discharged quickly – reducing unnecessary patient anxiety and leading to substantial health savings.

“Conversely, where we find people who are pre-symptomatic or gene carriers we can consider preventative treatments, such as a defibrillator, to prevent sudden death.”

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “We want this to be the century of personalised care and the advances in treatment we are seeing at state-of-the-art laboratories like Royal Brompton’s will help revolutionise medicine. This is why we have just invested £100million in pioneering scientific research to map 100,000 genomes over the next five years.

“Our vital investment will give hope to thousands of patients as we make ground-breaking discoveries about how diseases work and how we can treat them. It is also good news for the research sector and the economy - creating jobs and growth in our world-beating life sciences industry and helping the UK compete in the global race.”


For further information, please contact: 

Mark Fenwick

Head of Media Relations

Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust

Tel: 020 7351 8672  

Mobile: 07866 536 345

Email: m.fenwick@rbht.nhs.uk

Follow us on Twitter: @RBandH


Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust 

Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust is the largest specialist heart and lung centre in the UK and among the largest in Europe. We work from two sites, Royal Brompton Hospital in Chelsea, West London and Harefield Hospital near Uxbridge. The Trust has a history of innovative and ground-breaking treatment: - performing the first coronary angioplasty in the UK, founding the largest centre for cystic fibrosis in Europe and pioneering intricate heart surgery for new-born infants. Our care extends from the womb, through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. Our patients come from all over the UK, as well as the local area. 

Research programmes play a vital role at both our hospitals and are fundamental to delivering patient care. In March 2008, the Trust was one of 16 BRUs established by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to undertake translational clinical research. It awarded a four-year grant worth over £10m to a partnership of the Trust and Imperial College London, to fund both respiratory and cardiac Biomedical Research Units (BRUs) at the Trust. A further five-year grant of almost £20m was awarded by the NIHR in August 2011.This funding enables our best health researchers and clinicians to continue pioneering research into some of the most complex heart and lung conditions affecting patients in the UK around the world. 

About the National Institute for Health Research

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website.

About the Health Innovation Challenge Fund

The Health Innovation Challenge Fund is a parallel funding partnership between the Wellcome Trust and the Department of Health to stimulate the creation of innovative healthcare products, technologies and interventions and to facilitate their development for the benefit of patients in the NHS and beyond.

About the Department of Health

The Department of Health (DH) helps people to live better for longer. The Department leads, shapes and funds health and care in England, making sure people have the support, care and treatment they need, with the compassion, respect and dignity they deserve.

The Department funds health research and encourages the use of new technologies because it’s important to the development of new, more effective treatments for NHS patients. Innovation is needed so that decisions about health and care are based on the best and latest evidence.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.

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