Thousands of Scots families to help scientists improve nation's health

Generation Scotland, an ambitious and ground-breaking project looking at the ways genetic and lifestyle factors cause cancer, heart disease and mental illness is launched today, Thursday, 2 February in Edinburgh.

Leading doctors and scientists from the medical schools at the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow are driving forward the multi-million pound project, which will follow the health of 50,000 Scots family members over the next generation. The launch of Generation Scotland today, 2 February is the culmination of many years of planning and will keep Scotland at the forefront of healthcare genetics. The project will be conducted in full and close collaboration with the NHS in Scotland. Recruitment will start in Tayside and Glasgow, expanding to the rest of Scotland.

The Scottish Executive and the Scottish Funding Council are funding the project with initial grants of £4.4m and £1.8m respectively.

The scientific partners have begun collecting health and genetic data from Scottish families to build a rich store of material to explore the causes of common diseases. Families are being invited to help the Generation Scotland team explore not only the inherited nature of some diseases, but also look at how lifestyle, diet and environment influence the development of common conditions like heart disease, dementia, cancer and diabetes, amongst others.

The findings will help identify those at high risk of developing genetic conditions, and allow early treatments with new drugs designed to combat such diseases. The genetic information will also help adapt prescription drugs to individual needs.

The first wave of volunteers, recruited through their general practitioners, will form the Scottish Family Health Study ヨ the biggest family-based project of its kind in the UK. Researchers aim to recruit people aged 35-55 and their family members. The biological samples and medical information collected will be stored confidentially and securely for future research. In addition, Generation Scotland has launched a programme of consultation to gain feedback and opinions from members of the public about the research and how it is conducted, and this programme will run through the course of the project.

Professor Anna Dominiczak, University of Glasgow, said: "This funding is great news, and will build on substantial collaborative groundwork which has been done over several years. The initiative focuses on the health of Scottish families and builds upon Scotland's track record in epidemiology, record-linkage, quality NHS databases and genetics. It includes specific research proposals in the areas of cardiovascular diseases, mental health and pharmacogenetics, and brings together an impressive list of lead investigators and collaborators who collectively represent an unbeatable combination of proven research expertise in Scotland. This unique cross-institutional, interdisciplinary endeavour will make Scotland internationally competitive in human genetics of common complex diseases."

Professor Andrew Morris, University of Dundee and Chairman of the Generation Scotland Scientific Committee that oversees the research programme said:

"Generation Scotland is exceptional in its scale and design. We are delighted that after years of careful preparation we are in a position to create a uniquely Scottish resource of the highest international standing, which has the potential to shape everyday clinical care and modern public health strategies.

"Many of Scotland's leading scientists, epidemiologists and social science researchers have contributed enormously to the development of Generation Scotland and we are now ready to build upon this momentum by working with thousands of families across Scotland to create a resource that will inform the separate and combined effects of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors on human health and disease.

"Generation Scotland has proven the benefits of collaboration on three fronts: firstly we have created a unique collaboration between all the medical schools in Scotland and other key scientific institutions; secondly we have built important bridges between NHS and academic colleagues, which raises the exciting possibility of accelerating research findings into clinical practice. Most importantly through our public consultation work we are forging a collaboration with the Scottish people to create a scientific resource for the public good."

Professor David Porteous, University of Edinburgh said: "The idea behind Generation Scotland was hatched several years ago. It anticipated that the Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, would give us a fantastic opportunity to understand how the genes we inherit influence our health. Now we want to apply this knowledge to the benefit of all. Generation Scotland brings together research experts across Scotland in a ground breaking and hugely ambitious collaboration with the NHS and the people of Scotland. We have taken the first formal step down a tremendously exciting journey of discovery. "Generation Scotland was conceived as a project to be shared among all of the Scottish Medical Schools, allied research institutes and NHS National Services Scotland. This project has the potential to change the way we view, diagnose and treat many of the common causes of chronic ill health. It is a long-term project, a major collaboration between medical researchers and the NHS. We are confident about how to go about this, but ultimately it depends upon the support of families in Scotland to help unlock the secrets and bring real health benefits to those living with disease and to the next generation."

University of Aberdeen's Dr Blair Smith, who will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the project, said: "The University of Aberdeen is delighted to be working with so many colleagues from different areas and disciplines across Scotland, on this exciting project. However, this research will be of great long-term value to the people of Scotland, and it is even more important for us to be working with them. We are asking for their support, and will be working closely with their GPs and the NHS to make sure that this is done properly. Together we will ensure that this study achieves its maximum potential, which will lead to improvements in the understanding, prevention and treatment of the illnesses that Scottish patients and doctors face daily."

Health Minister Andy Kerr said: 'Preventative advice and medicine is an increasing part of our drive towards better health in Scotland.

'If we can identify groups of people at risk of particular conditions, such as heart disease, osteoporosis or mental illness, we can give them the support they need early in life to avoid problems, or if they are older, work with them to manage their conditions more effectively.

'We can also discover which groups of the population respond best to which medicines, enabling us to target those resources more effectively, making sure that the right patients get the right treatment.

'Not only is this good for the individual being treated, but it frees up resources which we can then use elsewhere in the NHS.'

The lecture Generation Scotland: genomic science supporting public health will be delivered this evening at the Royal College of Surgeons by Professor Andrew Morris, University of Dundee and Professor David Porteous, University of Edinburgh. The lecture will be chaired by Andy Kerr MSP, Minister for Health and Community Care.

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First published: 31 January 2006

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