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Prof Matt Hurles announced as next Wellcome Sanger Institute director





Professor Matt Hurles has been appointed as the new director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and will take over from Prof Sir Mike Stratton, writes editor Paul Brackley.

Head of the human genetics programme at the Hinxton-based institute since 2017, he will become director later this year following a handover period.

Prof Matt Hurles, of the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Picture: Onur Pinar / Wellcome Sanger Institute
Prof Matt Hurles, of the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Picture: Onur Pinar / Wellcome Sanger Institute

His appointment by the Genome Research Ltd board follows an extensive global search that began in February 2022.

His work is focused on deciphering the genetic causes of severe developmental disorders and understanding how DNA mutates through generations, with the aim of improving the diagnosis of patients with rare conditions.

Elected as a fellow of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences in 2017 and a fellow of the Royal Society in 2019, he leads the Deciphering Developmental Disorders (DDD) study (ddduk.org), which brings the expertise of the Wellcome Sanger Institute together with 14,000 families with children with severe, undiagnosed developmental disorders and all 24 of the clinical genetic centres in the UK and Ireland.

Understanding the diverse genetic origins of these disorders is helping to improve diagnostic testing. The work has helped to provide a genetic diagnosis for more than 1,000 children so far.

Prof Hurles said: “Sanger is a world leading genomics research institute, with a strong and purposeful mission, driven by our combination of collective endeavour and individual excellence. Mike Stratton’s vision, thoughtfulness and compassion will be a hard act to follow, and I am delighted that he will be staying on to pursue his own science.

“I am hugely honoured and tremendously energised to lead the Sanger Institute into the future. These are incredibly exciting times in genomics research and I am confident that Sanger science in our next decade will be as momentous and enduring as in our first three decades.”

Prof Hurles also leads the Prenatal Assessment of Genomes and Exomes (PAGE) study (pageuk.org), involving pregnant women and their partners and a network of UK Fetal Medicine Centres caring for them. The study investigates the genetic causes of developmental anomalies identified during prenatal ultrasound screening, with the aim of improving the prognostic information provided to parents. He also co-leads the DECIPHER initiative (deciphergenomics.org) with Helen Firth that enables rare disease patients to share anonymised genetic and clinical data globally.

He is co-founder and scientific director of Congenica, the Wellcome Genome Campus-based company established in 2014 that is now the exclusive provider of diagnostic decision support services for the NHS Genomic Medicine Service.

Prof Sir Mike Stratton, of the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Picture: Onur Pinar
Prof Sir Mike Stratton, of the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Picture: Onur Pinar

Meanwhile, Prof Stratton will remain at the Sanger Institute to continue his pioneering work in cancer research, which led to him winning the inaugural ‘In Search of Wonder’ Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2022 Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards.

Prof Stratton said: “To lead the Sanger Institute for the last 13 years has been a wonderful experience and the honour of a lifetime.

“I am so proud of the science that we have done together, its vision and breadth, its pace, ambition and impact.

“Today, however, it is my privilege to most enthusiastically and warmly welcome the appointment of Matt Hurles as the next Sanger director and to offer Matt my deepest, sincere congratulations. I am absolutely sure Matt will do a fantastic job and I look forward to supporting him in any way possible in the future.”

Paul Schreier, incoming interim CEO of Wellcome and chair of the Genome Research Ltd board, said: “On behalf of everyone at Wellcome, I would like to share congratulations to Matt Hurles on his appointment as director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Matt is an outstanding scientist who has made exceptional contributions to our understanding of human DNA and how genetics impact on our neurodevelopment.

“The profound commitment from all who work at and with the Wellcome Sanger Institute provides a true, living example of what we can achieve in discovery science, from major advances in infectious disease research to exploring the depths of the complex mechanisms behind life on earth itself.

“I would also like to add my heartfelt thanks to Mike Stratton for his inspirational leadership of the institute during his time as director. We are all looking forward to working with Matt, to build on this remarkable legacy, and continue cultivating the Sanger Institute’s world-leading role in genome research, in turn advancing our understanding of human health.”



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