Dr James Wilson
University Research Fellow
Centre for Population Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh
Orkney Complex Disease Study (ORCADES)
“We know that common diseases such as heart disease occur partly to due to lifestyle choices like smoking and exercise, but inherited traits encoded in our genes can also be a factor. Lives could be saved if we could identify the genes which lead people to develop diseases like these, and a better knowledge of the genetic factors influencing disease could suggest new directions for diagnosis and treatment.
These complex diseases arise from the combined effect of many different risk factors, such as high blood pressure and blood cholesterol. Because these risk factors are less complex than the disease itself, they are easier to study. To do so, I have set up a study among 2000 volunteers from the Orkney Islands. So far, we have measured over 200 different risk factors in each individual, including state-of-the-art imaging of bones and fat in the body, biochemical measures in blood and measures of thinking, memory and hardening of the arteries. These are then analysed by a variety of methods in order to identify which genes influence them - in this way the study has contributed to finding over 250 new genes involved in complex disease risk.
I believe that this research holds the promise of revolutionising both medicine and health care by revealing new mechanisms and pathways involved in disease, for example by suggesting potential new drug targets as well as eventually personalising medicine through more accurate disease risk prediction.”