Making a difference

A mosquito (Anopheles stephensi) in flight with its abdomen full of blood.

A mosquito (Anopheles stephensi) in flight with its abdomen full of blood. [Hugh Sturrock, Wellcome Images]


The Sanger Institute's research and resources advance biomedical research. We aim to engage in projects where we can make unique contributions to reducing the global health burden. Learn about the global benefits of our research, why we study particular diseases and how the Institute has influenced and continues to influence understanding of human health and disease.

Global benefits

At the Sanger Institute we aim to make a real contribution to global health, a responsibility that derives from our position as a world leader in genomic research. For example, we are carrying out large scale research programmes dedicated to investigating the biology and genomics of malaria, which kills over one million children in Africa each year and causes debilitating illness in over half a billion people worldwide.

We also invest in research that elucidates the genetic basis of cancer and metabolic and cardiovascular disease, which are a significant part of the global health burden.

To empower researchers worldwide, we have a culture of making our data freely available.

Our research in disease

The Sanger Institute has well-developed research programmes that look at common genetic diseases, including global killers, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

We contributed 40% of the malaria parasite genome sequence.

In addition, we have invested in decoding the genomes of many of the organisms in the World Health Organization category of neglected diseases, which cause death, disability and economic disadvantage on a huge scale, particularly in developing countries, and for which research is underfunded. Malaria, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, sleeping sickness and tuberculosis are among the pathogens sequenced at the Sanger Institute.


Clusters of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria. [Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images]

We also play a pivotal role in research into modern threats to our health. Through involvement in the sequencing and interpretation of organisms such as MRSA and C. difficile, we aim to reduce the global healthcare burden of these emerging infectious diseases.

How we have made a difference

The Sanger Institute has made significant discoveries in uncovering associations between genes and disease.

One of the first outputs of our sequencing work was the collaboration that led to the discovery of the BRCA2 breast cancer gene, in 1995. Subsequent results include genes implicated in obesity, diabetes, asthma, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. These results are made freely available to speed development of new therapies. We also identified the role of the BRAF gene in melanoma; therapies based on this discovery are now in clinical trial.

Members of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), gathered at Hinxton Hall at the ICGC conference in June 2009.

Members of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), gathered at Hinxton Hall at the ICGC conference in June 2009. [Genome Research Limited]

As well as important individual gene associations, we have driven collaborations and consortia that provide large-scale research or resources to help understand human biology and disease. We have a lead role in projects such as the International Cancer Genome Consortium, 1000 Genomes and International HapMap Project, which deliver freely and publically available genetic data to researchers worldwide.

From such research have emerged resources such as DECIPHER and COSMIC. DECIPHER categorizes chromosome abnormalities and relates these to developmental deficits; COSMIC catalogues mutations in cancer genomes. Both are widely used by clinical researchers.

Our websites and resources see enormous traffic from scientists seeking to make use of the results we publish. Researchers from around the world access our data: our websites receive some eight million page impressions each week. The Ensembl genome browser, co-hosted with the European Bioinformatics Institute, receives almost three million page impressions alone.

How we will make a difference

The Institute's management has developed a focused research strategy that will deliver in areas of biomedical research to which we can make significant and perhaps unique contributions to benefit global health.

For more information, please visit our page about the future.

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