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A new grant from the UK Academy of Medical Sciences will allow clinicians and scientists from Oxford, Sri Lanka and Thailand to establish new ties to support research into β thalassaemia and benefit those most affected.

Prof Doug Higgs and Dr Sachith Mettananda
Prof Doug Higgs and Dr Sachith Mettananda

β-Thalassaemia is a type of anaemia where a faulty gene leads to misproduction of haemoglobin in red blood cells. No cure is available, except for rare cases where a suitable bone marrow donor can be found. The disease predominantly affects the impoverished communities in the developing world, particularly South and South East Asia.

To develop and support research for new therapies in the areas most affected Dr Sachith Mettananda, a recent graduate from the MRC WIMM and now based at the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka, and Prof Doug Higgs (MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, Radcliffe Department of Medicine) successfully applied for a Global Challenges Research Fund Networking Grant, awarded by the UK Academy of Medical Sciences. The researchers plan to use the £25,000 award to fund a series of networking events across the UK, Sri Lanka and Thailand. These will strengthen the existing ties between Sri Lanka and the UK but also establishing a new regional network of researchers and clinicians working on this condition. The award will also help support pilot research in Sri Lanka, in order to build capacity to perform independent genetic therapeutic-based research in this country, with the ultimate aim of providing cutting edge therapies to local patients.

This award is the most recent step in a long history connecting the MRC WIMM to progress in thalassaemia research. Prof Sir David Weatherall, who founded our Institute in 1989, was the first to describe thalassaemia outside the Mediterranean, and over the years our researchers have established the molecular basis of this disease, as well as improved diagnosis and treatment options.