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Sanger scientists recognised by the Academy of Medical Sciences

Six Sanger researchers – past and present – have been welcomed into Fellowship of the prestigious organisation

Today (13 May 2020) six of the Wellcome Sanger Institute’s past and present researchers have been elected to the Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences. The award honours leading scientists within the biomedical and health sciences whose research has advanced medical science, delivered cutting-edge research discoveries, and produced benefits for patients and wider society.

The six newly elected Fellows are drawn from all areas of the Sanger Institute’s science and its faculty. They will be formally admitted to the Academy on 25 June 2020 together with a further 45 of the UK’s most prominent biomedical and health scientists.

Two of the researchers are Associate Faculty members of the Institute’s Cellular Genetics Programme. Professor Menna Clatworthy, based at the University of Cambridge, and Professor Muzlifah Haniffa, at Newcastle University, are using innovative single-cell technologies as part of the global Human Cell Atlas initiative. These collaborative studies are unlocking how the human body develops and works, cell by cell, over a person’s lifetime. Their research is contributing to the open-access COVID-19 Cell Atlas and is focused on understanding why the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19 affects individuals so differently.

During his time at the Sanger Institute, Honorary Faculty member Professor Ludovic Vallier led a team within the Cellular Genetics Programme that developed a range of innovative techniques to grow and apply stem cells in medical treatments. Now based at the MRC-Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, Professor Vallier’s group continues to develop regenerative medicine approaches and is studying the effects of the coronavirus on the liver.

From the Human Genetics Programme, former group leaders Professor Eleftheria Zeggini, (now at the Institute of Translational Genomics in Munich) and Dr Jeffrey Barrett (at Genomics PLC) are recognised for their contributions in the study of autoimmune diseases. Their teams used genomic approaches to provide valuable insights into the underlying roots of osteoarthritis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) respectively. In addition, Professor Zeggini championed the Institute’s progressive Equality, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, while Dr Barrett drove forward the pioneering Open Targets public-private drug discovery collaboration based on the Wellcome Genome Campus.

Also, in the Human Genetics Programme, Honorary Faculty member Dr Helen Firth, a Consultant Clinical Geneticist at Cambridge University Hospitals Trust, has been honoured for her role in demonstrating the value of genome sequencing for clinical diagnoses. Dr Firth has been central to the development of the DECIPHER database and Deciphering Developmental Disorders (DDD) project at the Sanger Institute that have improved the diagnosis of severe developmental disorders across the NHS and inspired the UK Government’s 100,000 Genomes Project.

“Warmest congratulations to all of our newly elected fellows to the Academy of Medical Sciences. Their indefatigable dedication to pushing the boundaries of our understanding of health and disease through continual innovation in genomic approaches is opening new vistas of possibility.

“Our faculty and alumni build global collaborations that utilise the power of genomics at unprecedented scale. From exploring how the body works – cell by individual cell – to new partnerships between academic research and the pharmaceutical industry, their work will enable us all to benefit from truly personalised, effective medicines.

“I am thrilled that their efforts to fully explore the potential of genome research and its application, by developing the next generation of researchers through mentorship and actively engaging in public debate, has been recognised with this prestigious award.”

Professor Sir Mike Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute

“I am delighted to welcome these 50 new Fellows into the Academy’s Fellowship. Each one has made their own outstanding contribution to biomedical science, and together they are advancing the health of our society in the UK and internationally. Their work affects us all, from the way we keep healthy through our lifestyle, to how we are treated if we become ill, to the way we receive information about health.

“This year our new Fellows announcement happens amidst a global health crisis. Some will face the challenge of how to continue to lead on some of the most pressing health challenges our society faces beyond coronavirus, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer. Others have joined the global research effort to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, whether that be through working out how to treat those with the virus, joining efforts to develop a vaccine, or looking to limit the impact of the pandemic more broadly on our physical and mental health.

“Never has there been a more important time to recognise and celebrate the people behind ground-breaking biomedical and health research, working harder than ever to further knowledge and protect patients and the public.

“It brings me great pleasure to congratulate the new Fellows, and see our Fellowship grow to even greater heights of evidence-based advice, leadership and expertise.”

Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences

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