Dr Matt Hurles - Spring Meeting

12 May 2013

Interview with

Dr Matt Hurles, Wellcoime Trust Sanger Institute

Kat - Last month I was at the Royal Society in London for the Genetics Society Spring meeting, Genomics for Health and Society. It was a fascinating and thought-provoking day, with a range of speakers drawn from a wide field. Dr Matt Hurles, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, was one of the meeting's scientific organisers, so I asked him to explain about how it came about.

Matt - So, the idea behind it is there's lots of people currently involved in particular aspects of how genomics will affect people's lives now and in the future. But many of us are just looking at one particular aspect. For example, the medical aspect or the forensic aspect, or the legal aspects of data sharing, or what it means for interpreting our family's histories and genealogies. And these groups never really talk very much and yet, they have lots of similar experiences, and it's only the collection of those that tells us about what the overall impact of genomics will be on society. So, we felt it was important to bring these groups together.

Kat - What sort of talks have we seen today?

Matt - So, I think we've been extremely fortunate that we've identified individuals who we most wanted to hear from and all of them accepted without exception. I think that points to that fact that they recognise their work is important for society and they feel it's important to communicate that work.

Kat - So, we've heard talks ranging from talking about identifying genes for very rare diseases, how you then turn those into therapies, the ethical implications of genomics, and then looking at DNA fingerprinting and DNA databases. What's the overall impression that you've come away with?

Matt - I think it's an overall impression of optimism for the future in terms of it's possible - as we saw for forensics - to make a dramatic impact, societal impact whereby, we take DNA finger printing for granted now, something that was invented 25 years ago. And really, it became into general use within a few years of its being - and now, we're in different phase, an earlier phase for the medical uses of genomics. But there is the opportunity that we follow a similar path, that it can very rapidly have a major impact. But we have to be a little bit careful about how we communicate that to people to make them comfortable with that rapid rate of change. So I think the general message we got was that there's not a great deal of point currently of having your genome characterised if you are not seriously ill. But in the future, that may not be the case. But currently, the major benefits are for those people that are severely ill or victims of crime.

Kat - And would you have your genome done, if not now, in the future?

Matt - I think I need to get my cholesterol tested first.

Kat - And then find out. Do you think that some of the talks that we've heard, some of the collaborations that may be setup, the conversations that are going on now over some wine, are you pleased with the way that today has gone?

Matt - I'm extremely pleased. I feel sad for the people that weren't here that didn't get to see in the round, some fantastic speakers that have really driven their field forward, thinking creatively about what they do in a lab or in an office. It's going to actually have a major impact on people's lives.

Kat - And one of the last questions that was asked in the panel discussion was, what's the one thing that you'd like to know about your genome and what was that for you?

Matt - I would most like to know what drugs I might have a severe adverse event from. When I was 3, my father had a very severe reaction to morphine and almost died. Now, I don't know if that's predictable from his genome and I would not like to leave my children without a father for something that would be predictable now from our knowledge of the genome.

Kat - That was Dr Matt Hurles from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

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