Decades of discovery set to revolutionise healthcare


It can be argued that the development of any successful innovation that transforms healthcare would not be possible without the knowledge derived from decades of discovery science preceding it.

Curiosity-driven discovery science provides the fertile ground upon which novel technologies for improving human health are developed; historical examples include the development of MRI for imaging, or radiotherapy for treating cancer. Similarly, nanopore sequencing - a novel technology with applications in healthcare - results from decades of different branches of interdisciplinary discovery science converging to produce a commercial sequencing device called the MinION that literally brings the power of modern genomics to the palm of your hand.

The development of nanopore sequencing is a triumphant example of how discovery science funded by the MRC was translated into a novel technology poised to deliver widespread societal impact. This technology enables hospitals, GP surgeries, or rural clinics to offer genetic sequencing ‘by the bedside’. Nanopore sequencing represents a paradigm shift in genomics and biotechnology.

The applications of nanopore sequencing are vast and ever-increasing.

Over the recent years, advances in technology have allowed many more diagnostic tests to be carried out at the patient’s bedside rather than the laboratory bench. Known as point-of-care testing, these technologies confer obvious advantages to both the patient and healthcare professionals; quicker results mean faster treatment, and less cost to the health service.

Until recently, routine point-of-care testing has been limited to biochemical tests such as the measurement of glucose or blood cell counts. But within the last decade, point of care diagnostic development has been expanding into the fields of infectious diseases and personalised medicine. The MinION sequencer, developed by Oxford Nanopore Technologies, is a tiny pocket-sized DNA sequencer that performs nanopore-based sequencing in just a few hours. Launched in 2005, Oxford Nanopore Technologies was valued at £1.5 billion in May 2018 thanks to investment and expansion into the Asia Pacific region.

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The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health.

MRC [Medical Research Council]