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MRC Harwell (Medical Research Council)

MRC Harwell is at the international forefront of the use of mouse genetics to study the relationship between gene and disease.

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Credit: MRC

What we do

MRC Harwell, part of the Medical Research Council, is at the international forefront of the use of mouse genetics to study the relationship between gene and disease. The models we create and study are used to understand the disease processes that occur when a gene goes wrong.

Most human diseases have a significant genetic component - changes in the DNA of our genes contribute to the development of the disease. This is true for birth defects, diseases of childhood, chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and psychiatric conditions, as well as diseases of ageing such as Alzheimer’s disease. Finding the genetic causes for these and other diseases has the potential to offer significant advances in medicine, from diagnosis to new therapies and treatment.

In 2001, the human genome project was completed. This project identified all of the genes in the human genome, and provided the tools to study how genes contribute to disease. The grand challenge that lies ahead for medicine is to identify the function of each and every one of these genes, and to determine how disease arises when a gene malfunctions.   

We are meeting this challenge by studying the mouse genome, the sequence of which was determined shortly after the human genome project.  The mouse has become the most important organism for modelling the genetics of human disease, due to its similarity to humans. Although a mouse looks very different to a human, its development, physiology and biochemistry are remarkably similar, and sequencing revealed that the mouse genome shares 99% of its genes with the human genome. We are therefore investigating the effects of genetic alterations in mice to determine how they can lead to disease.

Eventually, we and others aim to have information about the relationship between gene and disease for every gene in the mouse genome, and by extension, every gene in the human genome. This will provide a wealth of data and opportunities for advances in medical understanding and treatment, including the early assessment of new drugs and therapies.

MRC Harwell, encompassing both the Mammalian Genetics Unit and the Mary Lyon Centre, is in the vanguard of these developments. We are therefore providing the knowledge, expertise and facilities to increase our knowledge and advance medicine by investigating the genetics of disease.

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Career Information

Mary Lyons Centre