National Mouse Genetics Network

Professor Owen Sansom

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is investing more than £20m in a major new network in mouse genetics for disease modelling to accelerate our understanding of human disease and improve diagnosis and treatments.

Here, Professor Owen Sansom, Director of the National Mouse Genetics Network, writes about his vision for the new network, the exciting opportunity for the UK, and plans to engage with the community.

I am very excited to be leading the National Mouse Genetics Network. The UK has been at the forefront of mouse genetics for decades and as a cancer researcher for almost 20 years, I know how critical genetically engineered mouse models have been to understanding the biology of this devastating disease. These models have allowed us to determine some of the key molecular pathways involved in cancer and have offered us several important targets for the diagnosis and treatment of patients. This is similarly the case for a number of other significant clinical problems, from neurodegenerative disorders to cardiovascular disease.

However, I believe now is the moment for us to make a step change in our use of these complex models to better realise their potential for predicting therapies for human disease. My vision is to establish a network centred on disease positioning, with a strong emphasis on ensuring that our models accurately cross-compare to human disease, and to build on the considerable expertise that exists in this area within the UK, including at the Mary Lyon Centre in Harwell, which will act as a central hub. This will be an exciting opportunity for researchers to be part of a network with strengths in both fundamental biology and the translation of findings into clinical trials as well as cutting across a range of different disease types and disciplines.

Working with mouse and human geneticists, translational and clinical scientists as well as experts in technologies (for example, informatics and imaging), the goal will be to create a collaborative network made up of several disease-focused clusters. Each cluster will then work towards developing experimental medicine bids that leverage their maximum translational potential, including through engagement with industry. I know this model can deliver from my role as pre-clinical lead in the precision-Pan network focused on developing treatments for pancreatic cancer, where we now have five industry-sponsored trials based on the biological discoveries of the consortium. Importantly, clusters will also provide a point of access to the broader community who wish to access models (and also support further UKRI grant applications). Moreover, with the Mary Lyon Centre, we also hope to capacity-build to support innovative development or complex technique in model systems.

Before beginning to build the network, I am keen to engage at an early stage with leading scientists and clinicians from both the mouse and human disease research communities. This will allow me to gather a wide range of views and ideas, and to explore with researchers what some of the key opportunities and priorities might be for the network and for particular disease types. As a first step, I will be hosting a virtual workshop with leading scientists on 25 November 2020 and any additional individuals who wish to be involved in this should register their interest here. This will be in advance of a call for research cluster proposals in early 2021.

In summary, I am sure that everyone will learn a great deal through participation in this network and that by coming together and using mouse genetics to solve some challenging problems, we will ultimately be able to have an impact on human health.

To read more information, click here.

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]