World’s biggest gene study by Queen Mary Uni to find link causing diabetes

Genetics study at Queen Mary University

Genetics study at Queen Mary University - Credit: QM Uni

The world’s largest community genetics study which has just taken on Bengali radio broadcaster Zoinul Abidin as its 4,000th volunteer has been given £5 million to open a new research complex in London’s East End.

Prof David van Heel with his researcher in Queen Mary's genetic research lab

Prof David van Heel with his researcher in Queen Mary's genetic research lab - Credit: QM Uni

The East London Genes & Health project run by Queen Mary University received the windfall from the Higher Education Funding Council for a population genomic medicine centre at Whitechapel.

The project aims to find out why Asian communities in east London have above average rates of diabetes by analysing the genes of up to 100,000 people over the next 20 years.

Zoinul Abidin, who presents a Ramadan programme on east London’s BetarBangla community radio station, agreed to join the study after losing his father to diabetes.

“I want to lead by example to encourage our community to come forward and take part in this research,” Zoinul said.

“I lost my father to diabetes and my mother also has it. This research in future years will play its part in saving lives—I want to play my small part helping to make a huge difference.”

The £5m windfall is to equip three floors of the Abernethy building, part of Queen Mary’s Whitechapel campus in Newark Street, as a permanent base for the project.

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Leading the study is Prof David van Heel, who said: “We have reached our 4,000th participant only five months into the study, with the community really getting on board and showing its support.”

The East London Genes & Health project aims to study genetic code and medical records to work out the links between genes and environment causing disease. Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in east London in particular have among the highest rates of heart disease in Britain.

The risk of dying early is twice the national average. Tower Hamlets and neighbouring Newham have the lowest life expectancy of all London boroughs. Asians are also five times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes.

The study is open to adults with and without health problems from Bangladesh and Pakistan backgrounds. It aims to recruit up to 100,000 participants until 2034 who give a saliva sample from which is extracted genetic information to be recorded in confidential records which are not shared or passed on.