Dr Carl Anderson

Head of Human Genetics and Senior Group Leader

Carl is a statistical geneticist interested in using genetic and genomic data to further our understanding of common complex diseases. He is Head of the Human Genetics Programme and leads the Genomics of Inflammation and Immunity group at the Sanger Institute.

I am fascinated by the unique ability of human genetic variation to provide causal insights into disease biology. In addition, I am excited by the power of high-throughput genetic and genomic screens to discover hitherto unappreciated aspects of disease pathology.  The goals of my research are thus to use high-throughput screens to gain causal insights into the biological basis of human disease, identify new drug targets and determine the patients who will benefit most from these drugs.

I am very much a technophile and enjoy using the latest advances in biotechnology to further my research goals. For example, I was fortunate enough during my postdoc in Oxford to be a member of the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium as we began to wrestle with genome-wide association studies (GWAS) for the first time. Since then my group have applied GWAS to several immune-mediated diseases, predominantly inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and identified more than 280 loci associated with disease.  These have uncovered many novel aspects of disease biology (e.g. autophagy in IBD) and several of the genes these studies identified are now the targets of drugs undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of immune-mediated disorders. We are currently undertaking whole-exome and whole-genome sequencing-based association studies across tens of thousands of individuals to identify rare variants associated with IBD and thus complete the genetic map of the disease. My group is also using single-cell RNA sequencing of gut biopsies and blood samples, ascertained from hundreds of patients with and without IBD, to discover the genetic variants that regulate gene expression across the many diverse cell-types in these tissues. We will then combine these data with the results from our genetic association studies to allow us to move rapidly from an associated locus to an understanding of the dysregulated gene.

In 2016 I decided to take what at the time felt like a rather bold step and add a wet lab component to the group’s research. The lab adheres to the same high-throughput screening principals and is now very much established. In hindsight, this was a pivotal decision in my career because it opened up completely new avenues for research. We are currently undertaking CRISPR-screens using primary and iPSC-derived immune cells to identify the cellular mechanisms perturbed in IBD and better understand the biological basis of variation in drug response.

I am a firm believer in an open and collaborative approach to science and believe that research is more enjoyable when undertaken as part of a diverse team. I am a longstanding member of the UK IBD Genetics Consortium (UKIBDGC), a network of (predominantly) gastroenterologists from across the United Kingdom. This collaboration not only provides us with unique access to samples and rich phenotypic data from tens of thousands of IBD patients but also ensures we benefit from deep clinical expertise when designing, implementing and interpreting our research. I am a co-PI of the IBD bioresource,  a collection of more than 30K IBD patients consented for recall by phenotype and genotype, and The Health Data Research Hub for Inflammatory Bowel Disease which collates and processes routine clinical data for these patients to make it more accessible for research. I am also on the management committee of the International IBD Genetics Consortium.

I became interested in human disease genetics during my time as a biomedical sciences undergraduate at the University of Sheffield, UK. At that time I was particularly fascinated by neurodegenerative diseases and was drawn to genetics as a means of discovering causal disease biology in an organ as mysterious as the brain. After graduating I undertook an MSc in Genetic Epidemiology, again at the University of Sheffield, to begin learning about genetic mapping. With my interest in the field then firmly established, I moved to the University of Edinburgh in 2003 to undertake a PhD in Quantitative Genetics under the supervision of Peter Visscher. I spent the final two years of my PhD in the Genetic Epidemiology Department at the University of Brisbane following Peter’s move there for a professorship position. I was very fortunate that, right at the time I was finishing my PhD at the end of 2006, the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium (WTCCC) was on the lookout for postdocs to lead aspects of the project. I moved to Oxford at the beginning of 2007 to work on the inflammatory bowel disease arm of the WTCCC, buoyed by the fact that even linkage analysis managed to map a risk locus for IBD (NOD2).

We have a wide range of very exciting projects underway in our multidisciplinary team, and if you’d like to know more about these please visit www.andersonlab.info. We’re always on the lookout for bright and motivated people to join the group so, if you’re interested, please drop me an email and include your CV.

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