Genetic evidence to prioritise intervention

Using genetic data to prioritise treatments for further testing

Theme Translational data science

A bioinformatician analyses DNA data

In this workstream we use genetic data to predict the effects of medicines and identify modifiable risk factors, such as drinking alcohol or smoking.

Mendelian randomization (MR) is a ground-breaking gene-based approach pioneered in Bristol by our Medical Director George Davey Smith. This approach doesn’t involve giving people a particular treatment. Instead, it uses natural variation in our genes to test the effects of a modifiable factor to estimate the effect of that factor on disease outcomes. It also allows us to explore how different populations are affected using existing datasets from around the world.

MR is now routinely used to decide which targets to focus on for medical and public health intervention. However, it has mainly been used for disease prevention rather than treatment. To address this, we will apply our new MR methods to genetic datasets to identify potential treatment targets.

The use of MR has also mainly focused on white European populations. We will work with our large population-based study collaborators, including Global Biobank Meta-analysis Initiative and Born in Bradford, to address this. This will allow us to predict ancestry-specific effects for existing and new drugs, and to prioritise interventions for a range of ethnic groups.

We are working with our other themes, including mental health and diet and physical activity, to apply our MR approaches in their research.