In 1960 Paul Polani FRS, with the aid of a generous endowment by the Spastics Society (now Scope), founded the Paediatric Research Unit (PRU) and became the first Prince Philip Professor. The PRU was dedicated to the study and prevention of developmental disorders, and was the forerunner of today's Department of Medical & Molecular Genetics.
The PRU was housed initially in an old warehouse between the (then) Dental school and Keats House. In 1965, the first genetic advice clinic in South-East England was set up here. Expansion of the Unit became possible when it was moved in 1975 to the newly built Guy’s Tower, occupying the 7th & 8th floors. In 1976, the South East Thames Regional Genetics Centre was established within the PRU, fully supported by the NHS, which incorporated the National Laboratory for Genetic Enzyme Defects. At around this time, the registered charity ‘The Generation Trust’ was set up under the Chairmanship of Philip Harris (later Lord Harris of Peckham) to support the work of the PRU.
Professor Martin Bobrow took over as Director of the Unit in 1982 on Professor Polani’s retirement. He developed a molecular research program and diagnostic service for X-linked muscular dystrophy, and the PRU became the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics. The Regional DNA diagnostic laboratory was established in 1989, directed by Chris Mathew. Professor Ellen Solomon succeeded Martin Bobrow as Prince Philip Professor in 1995, developing cancer genetics as a major search interest in the Department. The Department continued to grow, with the Cytogenetics laboratories moving into new laboratories on the 5th floor of the Tower in 1995. The Clinical Genetics department continued to expand, and moved into the 7th floor of New Guy’s House (now Borough Wing).
A major refurbishment of the 5th, 7th and 8th floors of the Tower, funded by the Wellcome Trust JIF/SRIF scheme, Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charity and King’s College London, was completed in 2005. The Henry Wellcome Labs for Medical & Molecular Genetics were opened on 10th November 2005. Professor Solomon was succeeded as Head of Department in 2009 by Professor Richard Trembath, who moved to Queen Mary University of London in 2011 and was succeeded by Professor Christopher Mathew.
The Department has continued its very successful track record in the discovery of genes for inherited disorders using modern DNA sequencing technology, but has also developed major research programs in the genetics of common, complex disorders, with accompanying expertise in statistics and bioinformatics. The application of disease gene discoveries to the development of new diagnostic markers and possible therapeutic interventions are still central to our research philosophy.
Find out more about the history of the Division of Genetics & Molecular Medicine.