Over the last few months it has been exciting to see how quickly a new international research team can be pulled together, when you share values, have a common goal and willingness to share complementary expertise.
A chance lunchtime conversation with Professor Brent Richards, McGill University during the Wellcome Genome Campus inaugural Health Data Science Conference, has led to an exciting new collaboration that we hope will address a fundamental barrier to the equitable application of genomic medicine to clinical decision making.
At the Hinxton conference, co-organised by HDR UK Research Directors Cathie Sudlow and John Danesh, Brent shared his passion for translating the potential of genetics and genomics research to improve clinical decision making. It was clear that we shared the same vision to unite and understand complex health data to make discoveries and improve lives.
But to achieve this ambition, we also share a common problem: the lack of representative, ethnically diverse datasets from individuals of non-European ancestries. HDR UK’s Director, Professor Andrew Morris has previously written of the challenge of missing diversity in human genetics. The question we challenged ourselves with was could we work together, pooling our collective expertise and diverse partnerships to address this problem? I’m very pleased to say that the answer was yes!
In a few weeks, with the leadership of Brent and Michael Inouye (HDR UK Cambridge), we have established a cross-Atlantic interdisciplinary team committed to developing the new advanced analytical approaches needed to create equitable, multi-ethnic polygenic risk scores that improve clinical care for all. Polygenic risk scores are themselves a recent development based on germline human genomic variation which, together with conventional risk factors, can be utilised to estimate an individual’s risk of a given disease. We are very fortunate to be able to work with a diverse range of partners and some of the most ethnically diverse data assets available, including the impressive East London Genes and Health programme . Our shared ambition is to minimise the inequality that will inevitably arise when polygenic risk scores generated from white-European ancestries are the only choice available to inform diagnostic or therapeutic decisions for other ethnic groups.
This is clearly a very complex and sensitive area, but in the words of a member of HDR UK’s Public Advisory Board it is also “hugely important for so many reasons”. By bringing together the UK’s data science assets and expertise, together with the leading capabilities of our new colleagues in Montreal, we are committed to contributing to the equitable use of polygenic risk scores for all.