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Cardiff scientists share £8.5M to help solve key medical challenges

7 February 2014

Dr Thomas Connor
Dr Thomas Connor

Two Cardiff University scientists will take a leading role in developing a world leading computer system to address the Big Data challenge that arises from the use of cutting edge genomics approaches to examine microbial pathogens.

Dr Thomas Connor and Professor Tim Walsh from Cardiff University's Schools of Medicine and Biosciences will work alongside colleagues from Warwick Medical School, Swansea University, Public Health Wales NHS Trust and the University of Birmingham on the £8.5M MRC Consortium for Medical Microbial Bioinformatics (CMMB) initiative.

The CMMB is part of a £32M investment announced by The Minister for Science and Universities, the Rt Hon David Willetts, at the High Performance Computing and Big Data Conference this week.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is investing £32M across five major awards, to improve capability, capacity and capital infrastructure in medical bioinformatics.

"Genomics is revolutionising healthcare and it is one of the key technologies that is making medicine personal," according to Dr Thomas Connor, School of Biosciences.

"However, the potential of genomics can only be realised once the appropriate technologies and methodologies are in place to integrate, analyse and share the data that it produces.

"Our greatest challenge is to ensure that these fruits of the Big Data revolution are available to all UK microbiology researchers. To this end the CMMB will provide critical tools and infrastructure to support the wider community as they – and we – work to better understand microbial disease." he added.

The CMMB combines a network of world class researchers with one of the largest computational resources in the world dedicated to microbial pathogen research.

It will support research which will include outbreak tracking, population genomics and metagenomics along with vaccine, diagnostics and drug development.

Universities and Science Minister Rt Hon David Willets said, "Making the most of large and complex data is a huge priority for government as it has the potential to drive research and development, increase productivity and innovation and ultimately transform lives.

"This funding will help build UK medical research capability and improve collaboration across institutions, academia, the NHS and industry."

MRC Chief Executive, Professor John Savill said: "Advances in data research will lay the foundation for solving some of the most fundamental questions in medicine.

"This investment in medical bioinformatics represents an important part of a wider MRC strategy to integrate large scale information about our genetic make-up, our complex biological characteristics and electronic health records to better understand health and disease.

"This funding will help improve linkages and analysis and ensure that researchers' skills develop in tandem with emerging data technologies. The aim is to strengthen the UK's capacity to analyse biomedical data in secure environments so that patients and participants can be reassured that their personal data are safe and may be used to benefit to the whole UK population."