GP18 Q&A: Keynote speaker Professor Peter Donnelly

Paul Hayes

3/10/2018 11:52:57 AM

newsGP spoke with GP18 keynote speaker Professor Peter Donnelly, of the UK’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, ahead of this year’s RACGP conference for general practice.

Professor Peter Donnelly’s GP18 keynote address will ‘aim to give a sense of what has been called the genetic revolution’.
Professor Peter Donnelly’s GP18 keynote address will ‘aim to give a sense of what has been called the genetic revolution’.

Professor Peter Donnelly’s keynote address will include an overview of research currently being undertaken by the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics and how it affects health professionals in their diagnoses and treatments.
Can you tell us about yourself? 
I grew up in Brisbane. I went to school there and then to the University of Queensland, where I gained a BSc. I then studied for a doctorate in mathematics in Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship.
Since then I have worked in the academic sector, doing teaching and research, including at the University of London and the University of Chicago. I returned to Oxford as Professor of Statistical Science in 1996 and have been here since.
My mathematical research involved studying models for the ways in which populations evolved genetically, but I became more and more interested in the genetics, and now think of myself as a human geneticist rather than a statistician.
Within Oxford, I moved in 2007 to become Director of the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, a large multidisciplinary research centre of around 400 basic and clinician scientists working to understand the genetic basis of human diseases and to use those insights to improve the way we diagnose and treat diseases.
I’ve been very fortunate to have had leadership roles in many of the large national and international projects in human genetics. These include the International HapMap project, the successor to the human genome project, which characterised patterns of genetic variation across the world; the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium, which was the landmark project to study the genetics of 20 diseases in over 60,000 people; and the WGS500 project, which led to the use of whole genome sequencing in clinical medicine in the UK.
My current academic research is focused on understanding recombination and meiosis – which really is the miracle of life – and on using genetics to better understand human history.
I stepped down from my role as Director of the Wellcome Centre about 18 months ago, and now split my time between my academic role and being CEO of a spin-out company we started called Genomics plc, which is using large-scale genetic data to transform drug discovery.
I don’t have any formal medical training or medical role – though my mother always hoped I would do medicine, and that’s the area where I feel I am now contributing.
What will you be discussing at GP18?
I will aim to give a sense of what has been called the genetic revolution – the explosion in our knowledge of specific changes in our DNA which affect our susceptibility to particular diseases or affect other physiological, cognitive, behavioural or molecular traits –  and the ways in which this is already impacting on clinical medicine, and its potential impact going forward in both drug discovery and clinical care.

What are you looking forward to experiencing while in Australia?
I love being back in Australia (even briefly). I particularly love being in Queensland, where I grew up, and the Gold Coast, which was the scene of so many of my summer holidays as a child.
I’m also really looking forward to interacting with, and learning from, those at the conference about the issues, challenges, and opportunities facing GPs in Australia.

Professor Donnelly will deliver his keynote address on Saturday 13 October at 9.20–10.00 am. Visit the GP18 website to learn more and register for the conference.

conference for general practice GP18 Wellcome Trust Centre

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