MRC mouse research centre to understand the role of genes in disease opened by Lord Sainsbury today

A new £18M Medical Research Council (MRC) facility to understand and compare the genetics of disease in mice and humans will be opened today, Wednesday 30 June, by Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science and Technology.

The Mary Lyon Centre, at Harwell, Oxfordshire, headed by professor Bob Johnson, will primarily support research carried out at the neighbouring MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit which uses mouse genetics to understand what human genes do and how they contribute to health and disease, but will also support mouse research in the MRC Radiation and Genetic Stability Unit at Harwell and in the wider UK community. One third of the space and resources of the Centre will be made available to external researchers.

Mice share 99% of their genetic sequence with humans and can suffer from the same diseases, for example diabetes, deafness and cancer. Investigating these diseases in mice can provide vital leads to understanding both their causes and ways to treat them in humans.

Named in honour of Dr Mary Lyon, who has worked at Harwell since 1955 and whose curiosity about the unusual colour of the coat of a mouse led to greater understanding of disease-causing genetic mutations, the Centre will enable scientists to study the results of interaction between mouse genes and the environment, and will create a centre of excellence in mouse anatomy, physiology and pathology.

The Centre will house up to 65,000 mice and will offer a variety of services including: basic animal husbandry and welfare monitoring; transgenesis, which is the integration of foreign genes into living organisms giving rise to new, inheritable characteristics; gene targeting and mutagenesis to change genetic material in an inheritable way; pathology, to study disease processes; and, bioinformatics, which is the application of computer technology and databases to facilitate and expedite biological research.

The welfare of the mice is paramount. The building has been purpose-designed to incorporate the latest in modern technology to meet the highest possible animal welfare standards.

Professor Steve Brown, Director of the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, said: “One of the major challenges for the 21st century is to determine the function of all genes in the mammalian genome and their role in human disease. The Mary Lyon Centre with its state-of-the-art facilities and expertise will make an enormous contribution in achieving this goal.”

Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: “We share almost all our genes with mice making them hugely useful for studying human disease. If it hadn’t been for research involving mice, we wouldn’t have made such leaps in understanding the cause of cystic fibrosis and certain types of deafness, the improvements in treatments for depression, the advances in treatments for some cancers, or as much progress in the development of vaccines for tuberculosis and malaria.

“The Mary Lyon Centre will help ensure that medical research continues to make groundbreaking contributions towards the improvement of public health.”

Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science and Technology, said: “The Mary Lyon Centre will help ensure the UK remains at the forefront of medical research. Combining high standards of animal welfare with high quality science, I am certain the new centre will play a vital role in furthering our knowledge of treatments for diseases such as cancer, cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis.”

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