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Michael Higgins

Clinical Programme Manager, Genomics Medicine Ireland

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Abby Langtry

Director of Patient Advocacy and Community Engagement, Genomics Medicine Ireland

Genomics research could offer a significant healthcare breakthrough — namely more targeted, personalised treatments for patients with Type 1, Type 2 or rare forms of diabetes.


Currently, if you’re diagnosed with diabetes, you’ll be given a ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment, which isn’t necessarily the best way to manage such a complex disease.

However, genomic research offers the possibility of more targeted, personalised, precision treatments that promise better patient outcomes.

This can’t come too soon. With rates soaring, there’s an urgent need to find new therapeutics that can treat all forms of diabetes more effectively.

Michael Higgins is Clinical Programme Manager at research company, Genomics Medicine Ireland (GMI), which was established in 2015 with the aim of building a world-class disease specific genomic database.

This will include data from 400,000 volunteers in Ireland from both ‘healthy’ participants and patients with up to 60 different diseases (including diabetes). This is one of the largest genomics studies in the world.

Understanding diabetes and identifying new drugs

“Genomics is the large scale study of all our genes and their functions,” he explains. “Our genes contain sequences of DNA in our cells that act as the blueprint for every human being, controlling everything from our eye and hair colour to our likelihood of developing a particular disease.

Genomic research offers the possibility of more targeted, personalised, precision treatments that promise better patient outcomes.

“The hope is that this research will help us understand diabetes in more detail, and potentially identify drug targets for novel therapeutics for Type 1, Type 2 and rare forms of the disease.”

Naturally, this research wouldn’t be possible without patient participation. “We’re very grateful for the people who participate in our studies,” says Abby Langtry, GMI’s Director of Patient Advocacy and Community Engagement.

“We believe that every patient has the right to participate in research of this kind, should they so choose.”

Educating the public about the power of genomics

Participating in this research is a simple and straightforward process. “If a person (over the age of 18) is deemed eligible for the study, they will be given a detailed information leaflet explaining how their data will be used, stored and accessed,” says Langtry.

“Once they consent, volunteer participants complete a questionnaire and give research staff permission to access their medical records, in order for them to gain an understanding of contributing factors such as medical history and lifestyle. Participants also give a sample of blood — and that’s it.”

Data security is paramount. At GMI, personal identifiers are never used to label samples or clinical information, and data is stored on a platform with the highest GDPR-compliant standards of research and data protection regulations.

Langtry says that more needs to be done to inform people about the potential benefits of genomics.

“Last year, we carried out research into the understanding of genomics in the Irish general public,” she says. “The rate (of people who knew about it) was just 6%. So there’s a huge gap. That’s why we work with patient advocacy groups to explain our studies, which is helping educate people about how genomics could deliver real change to healthcare.”

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