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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 07:32 GMT
Cash boost for medical research
By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Lab work
The UK has a high research reputation
Large rises in money for biomedical research will allow scientists to do work on a "scale not possible before", a leading funding body says.

Wellcome Trust head Dr Mark Walport has announced the body is to boost spending by 60% - to 4bn over the five years.

He said the aim was to understand the genetics and development of common killer diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and cancers.

And he added: "This is an incredibly exciting time for science."

He said an important aim will be to translate the information gleaned from the Human Genome Project into a real understanding of some of the world's biggest killers.

One of our priorities is to increase our understanding of common human diseases at the genetic level
Dr Mark Walport, of the Wellcome Trust

Brain disorders and mental illness will also be a priority.

He said these are complex diseases involving several genes and environmental factors. But the Wellcome Trust believe that with a heavy investment in research scientists can make real progress.

"One of our priorities is to increase our understanding of common human diseases at the genetic level.

"Developments in technology have meant we can now do this kind of science on a scale that we've not been able to before."

The Wellcome Trust has already invested 28m in the Biobank project.

This is the biggest project of its kind in the world, which aims to discover the relationship between genetic make up and environmental factors.

The trust has already invested 17m in the Case Control Consortium, which aims to identify genes involved in common diseases - an additional 30m is already earmarked for the next phase of this kind of research.

'Tip of the iceberg'

But this already substantial backing is "just the tip of the iceberg," of what's likely to follow, according to Dr Walport.

"The genetic influences on health are very profound.

"It's a big step from identifying genes to understanding the disease process and then devising treatments - and that requires a heavy investment in resources."

Neuroscience is also high on Dr Walport's list of priorities.

Not just the brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease - but mental illness which he believes has been relatively neglected by the research community.

As well as investing more in research, Dr Walport wants to see a similar increase in funding the public's understanding of that research.

He believes that the two go hand-in-hand.

He cites recent concerns over embryo research as an example where it's been important for the public to be properly informed about the science in order to make a rational choice about what they - and ultimately Parliament feels to be acceptable.

"People can have whatever views they want on controversial topics such as embryo research. But it's important that that those views are based on information rather than disinformation."

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