Imperial College London

New research centre to create health legacy for London 2012



Imperial will lead the creation of the MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre in labs currently operating as the drug testing site for the Olympics.

Imperial College London will lead the creation of a unique biomedical research facility in laboratories currently operating as the drug testing site for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre will perform large-scale, in-depth analysis of biological samples to study how genes and the environment interact to cause disease, drawing on Imperial’s expertise in metabolic profiling science. The new Centre was announced by the Prime Minister today at the inaugural Global Health Policy Summit in London.

The Olympics Drug Control Centre, run by scientists from King’s College London, was set up to analyse up to 400 samples a day from athletes competing at the Games. The facility is the size of seven tennis courts and is located at GlaxoSmithKline’s laboratories in Harlow, Essex. The Medical Research Council (MRC) and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) have awarded £10 million to Imperial and collaborators from King's to develop the lab into a high-throughput national facility for analysing the chemical components of biological samples, principally blood and urine.

The profile of metabolic products that can be measured in bodily fluids gives scientists a readout of a person’s biology that isn’t captured by their DNA alone. The metabolism is influenced by interactions between the genes and environmental factors, including lifestyle, and these interactions also influence the likelihood of getting a particular disease.

The new Centre will be led by Professor Jeremy Nicholson, whose team at Imperial have pioneered the use of analytical chemistry technologies such as mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance to study human health. The Centre will allow this approach to be applied much more widely than before, making high quality analysis available to scientists throughout the UK who want to carry out metabolic profiling on large numbers of samples. It will also set the scientific standards for similar centres to be set up internationally.

Research at the Centre is expected to benefit public health by improving our understanding of disease risk factors, helping doctors and policymakers to provide better advice and legislation. Metabolic studies could also identify molecules involved in causing disease, leading to new targets for treatments. Additionally, industrial partners Bruker and Waters, who are supplying equipment for the Centre, are investing heavily in the next generation of analytical technology, which may have wider applications in areas such as environment and food science. This investment will further strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in analytical science.

The Centre will begin operating in early 2013.


The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said:

 “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capitalise on the investments made in technology, knowledge and skills as part of the London 2012 drug-testing facility. It will bring significant benefits for the UK economy, by being a focus of collaboration with life sciences industry and making the UK a more attractive place to do research.”

Professor Jeremy Nicholson, head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London and Director of the MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre, said: “The possibilities offered by the Centre are ground-breaking, as it will provide new ways of understanding the complex interactions between people’s genes and their environment that determine their disease risks. 

“Metabolic profiling will give us a new dimension of understanding about the factors that contribute to disease, as well as crucial information for predicting how individual patients are likely to respond to treatment. The Centre will build on the critical mass of world-class phenotyping research expertise we have established at Imperial, and we look forward to strengthening this by working with public and private partners on the MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre."

News update

30 November 2012

The MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre will now be located at Imperial College London on the Hammersmith campus.



Sam Wong

Sam Wong
School of Professional Development

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Olympics, Public-health
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