News24

Genetics is 'Top of the Pops'

2011-03-11 20:49

London - Genetics is still the hottest area of scientific research, a decade on from the mapping of the human genome, despite slow progress in translating discoveries into new medical treatments.

A Thomson Reuters Science Watch survey found seven of the top 13 researchers in 2010 worked in genetics, with Eric Lander of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT the world's "hottest" researcher.

Lander's work covered genetic mapping and human disease, including lung cancer.

The annual survey, released this week, looks at research across different scientific disciplines and uses the Web of Science database to see which papers published in the last two years are cited the most by other scientists.

Ten years after the first full sequence of the human genome was published, early expectations of rapid breakthroughs in fighting disease have proved misplaced.

But academic interest has not slackened, and scientists remain hopeful that the tsunami of information unlocked by genomics, or the study of genetic sequences, will eventually yield big dividends.

One early success, in fact, came just on Wednesday, with US approval for Human Genome Sciences Inc's lupus drug Benlysta, the first drug derived from genomics to win marketing clearance.

It has been a long haul, however. Human Genome's partner on Benlysta, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, first invested in the US biotech company way back in 1993. For some drug companies progress has simply been too slow.

Three of the hottest researchers in the latest Science Watch survey came from Iceland's Decode Genetics, which pioneered deeper understanding of the relationships between genes and common diseases, but filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009 before re-emerging as a private business in 2010.

Outside the field of genetics, Andre Geim at the University of Manchester made a third consecutive appearance on Science Watch hot list, this time in his capacity as a Nobel Laureate.

Geim shared the Nobel physics prize with his colleague Konstantin Novoselov last October for their work on graphene, a form of carbon just one atom thick that is 100 times stronger than steel.

Another materials scientist, Yang Yang of the University of California, Los Angeles, also made the hot list for research on polymer solar cells.