Dr Jenny Taylor is the Programme Director for the Genomic Medicine Theme at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics. Her research aims to bridge the gap between genetics research and the use of its discoveries in diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions.
Clinical diagnoses can be broad descriptions, but today's test results can help better understand the condition as well as target treatment. Cancer is a good example in which personalised medicine can help decide which molecular targeted therapy is most appropriate.
Ultimately, medical research must translate into improved treatments for patients. At the Nuffield Department of Medicine, our researchers collaborate to develop better health care, improved quality of life, and enhanced preventative measures for all patients. Our findings in the laboratory are translated into changes in clinical practice, from bench to bedside.
Jenny Taylor: Personalised medicine is about making the treatment a patient receives very relevant for their own specific condition. Clinical diagnoses can be quite broad umbrella descriptions and personalised medicine aims to introduce and integrate a lot of different test results to ensure that the particular condition a patient has is understood at a variety of levels and the therapy or clinical management is targeted accordingly.
Q: How can scientists tailor treatments for an individual patient?
JT: Cancer is a good example of where scientists and clinicians are already tailoring treatment. Previously when a patient received a diagnosis of cancer, surgery to remove their cancer and then chemotherapy was prescribed, and maybe radiotherapy too. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are very toxic treatments and the emergence of new molecular therapies in cancer against particular molecular targets has really revolutionised the field but we have to know the particular aberration or mutation in a patient's tumour in order to decide which of those therapies would be most appropriate for that particular patient.
Q: Can you give an example of a personalised medicine approach?
JT: Following on from the theme of cancer, one of the approaches that we’ve taken is to develop these gene panels where we can sequence the genes that are known to be involved in different cancers and identify the mutations that are present in any given patient's tumour. Once we have that knowledge we can then identify which of the molecular targeted therapies they should receive.
Q: What are the most important lines of research that have developed in the past five or ten years?
JT: Genomics has had a very exciting, a really cutting edge time, revolutionising not just the research field, but the whole application of genomics to clinical medicine. We can now test multiple different genes to see whether there are mutations or changes in a patient's DNA. Where previously we used to do that one gene at a time, now we can look at several in parallel and increasingly whole genome sequencing. So genomics has had a huge impact in this arena.
Q: Why does your line of research matter and why should we put money into it?
JT: Our line of research is very much focussed on the discovery of novel genes for human disease, but also the development of genomic technologies that will allow us to bring new tests into the clinic for use in diagnosing patients. It is clearly very important, not just for understanding the mechanisms of disease, which the discovery of new genes will help with, but also for ensuring that patients are going to benefit from those discoveries and that the results aren’t lost in a journal, but are actually developed for people here and now.
Q: How does your research fit into translational medicine within the Department?
JT: Our research is very closely integrated with the translational medicine within the Department and is also part of the Oxford Biomedical Research Programme, which is a translational programme. We’ve got a genomic medicine theme, but by being based in the Wellcome Trust Centre of Human Genetics, we can look at the genetics discoveries that are arising from Principle Investigators in the Centre. We work very closely with the Biomedical Research Programme and with the Oxford Universities Hospitals Trust to make sure that these research discoveries are translated into clinical benefits. We are the conduit for making sure that translation from research to the bedside is actually happening.