The challenge I faced in the past was insufficient manpower with knowledge and interest on the matter. CU and Chulalongkorn Hospital had helped fund the research project [which fetched him the coveted Newton Fund prize] by raising money from inside and outside the country. If we have a bigger budget, we could help more patients.
Professor Vorasuk Shoterelersuk, Centre of Excellence for Medical Genetics at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand
2016 - present
The Office of the Higher Education Commission, Thailand
Newton Fund research to improve the diagnosis and clinical management of rare genetic diseases in children.
About five million Thai people are believed to be suffering from rare genetic diseases. Few doctors have the necessary experience to treat them, and diagnosis is difficult and typically takes seven years to investigate. The majority of these incidences begin in early childhood but symptoms and outcomes can persist throughout life, and can even lead to disability.
Although the revolutionary Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) has enabled the genetic code to be cracked quickly, there is still a lack of experts with appropriate skills to cope with big genomic data. Newton Fund research helps to provide the support for institutional collaboration to solve some of the biggest challenges in genetics.
The collaboration between University College London and Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok has resulted in the development of a joint database for referencing genomic data between the UK and Thailand. This collaboration has helped to diagnose rare diseases faster and with greater accuracy in two weeks. The research has also helped to solve hundreds of undiagnosed cases and enabled genetic counselling and prenatal diagnosis for patients and families.
This knowledge in genetic testing is intended to be disseminated to less accessible regions in Thailand and permit more accurate genetic counselling and family planning decisions. It will also help to enable patients to receive specific treatment faster and more precisely. Improved diagnoses and clinical management such as this will drive significant savings across the Thai health system.
The programme also helped the team in Thailand to gain more recognition in the area of genomic science and precision medicine, thereby obtaining further support for professional development, as well as pushing this area of research into a public health concern.
The work has also led to the expansion of further collaborations, including partnerships with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and institutions in Japan, Korea, and Germany; resulting in a network of expertise on immunology and rare disease diagnosis.
Newton Fund invests in collaborations between UK-based and local researchers to understand countries’ specific development problems and needs, and to identify possible answers. Institutional partnerships with UK universities, like University College London, mean greater scope for scientific work in future and growing relationships in the sector.
Partnerships, training and collaboration between individual students, teachers and researchers in the UK and overseas improves careers and helps to produce high quality teaching, learning and research for both countries.