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      Sanger: Solving Global Challenges through Collaboration

      Six part Q&A with Dr Julia Wilson, Associate Director, Wellcome Sanger Institute

      17 Feb 2022 Dr Julia Wilson, Associate Director, Wellcome Sanger Institute

      1. What is the strategic vision of the Wellcome Sanger Institute?

      When the Wellcome Sanger Institute was founded 1993, it initially had only one task: sequencing the first human genome. At that time the Sanger was the UK, hub of the global Human Genome Project. In the end, the Institute was the single largest contributor to this 10-year ambition. 

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      2. How does the Institute interact with and support the scientific community?

      The Sanger Institute is core-funded by Wellcome, and we use this funding to invest in core-facilities such as our genome sequencing platform. Our scientists can then think of the biggest and boldest projects, ones that can potentially answer some of life’s biggest questions. More than 90% of our scientific publications are done in collaboration with others, and we believe we can only tackle some of these biggest challenges by coming together and collaborating. We have, for example, worked as part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium for many years, which through collaboration across the global community were able to map the genetic faults in 50 of the most important cancer types.

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      3. Why is it important that we stand behind and champion genomics research? What is at stake for society, and how does this research advance humanity?

      Put simply, the health of the nation. The Sanger Institute provided the proof of principle study demonstrating that genome sequencing was useful in helping diagnose children with developmental disorders and this paved the way for the formation of Genomics England, a British company founded and owned by the Department of Health and Social Care to run the 100,000 Genomes Project.

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      4. How does the Sanger Institute help to commercialise research? What sort of partnerships are formed, and how does this collaboration advance scientific research?

      Colleagues here run a ‘start-up school’ where staff from all parts of the organisation can apply to attend and learn more about entrepreneurship. We hope that providing our people with a foundation in the process of ideation, regulation, and funding gives staff the sort of training and confidence to go on and potentially start up and commercialise an idea.

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      5. Why is the Oxford-Cambridge Arc an important region for innovation?

      We benefit from a concentration of talent and skills. Science is insanely collaborative, and you need that critical mass of people. The beauty of the Arc, and the Golden Triangle, is that none of us can solve these world challenges alone: we need collaboration, like the fantastic nation-wide scheme Health Data Research UK, which frees up routinely collected health data for use in research and industry. You can’t make new discoveries with a small sample size, you must extend a hand to others to better society.

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      6. How is the Wellcome Sanger Institute changing the world?

      One such example of our impact was our recent work initially as part of the COG-UK Consortium to deliver Covid-19 virus genomes to the UK government to understand the spread of disease and help spot new variants. Skilled technical staff working at the Institute created and adapted protocols to rapidly sequence the virus genomes at scale, and then shared these protocols globally for the common good. 

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