Tracing the History of Genomics and Health Policy in the UK


A new research project at the University of Liverpool will undertake the first substantial analysis of the history of genomics and public health genomics policy in the UK.

Developed in collaboration with and funded by the Foundation for Genomics and Population Health (PHG Foundation) at the University of Cambridge, the project will allow Professor Sally Sheard and Dr Philip Begley from the University of Liverpool to trace the emergence of interest in genomics amongst health policymakers and the public health community. The UK has pioneered developments in genetics and genomics and the field has come to have a significant impact on the development and delivery of a wide range of health services. The project will identify and analyse key drivers of policy development and help to inform future policy and practice.

The PHG Foundation started life as the founding UK centre for public health genetics in 1997 and is now a policy think-tank and a linked exempt charity of the University of Cambridge. Publications authored by the Liverpool team will form part of activities to mark the organisation’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 2022.

Professor Sheard, who is Head of the University’s Department of Public Health, Policy and Systems, alongside her role as Andrew Geddes and John Rankin Professor of Modern History, said: “I’m very pleased to have this opportunity to study a significant UK public health policy development. Public health genomics focuses on the translation of genomic science into population health benefits. Although there have been genetic components to public health practice for many years, such as neonatal screening, it is in the last quarter century that its full potential has been realised. This is an exciting opportunity to look at how this policy area has evolved, and to set it in the context of wider public health and clinical medicine.”

PHG Foundation Director Dr Mark Kroese commented: “We are delighted  that Professor Sheard will be leading this important new research to chart the development of policy alongside genomics; it will uncover the hidden story of how genomics has been used to improve clinical and public health services, and provide valuable insights for future policy makers who wish to make science work for health.”

The new research builds on Professor Sheard’s Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award project ‘The Governance of Health: Medical, Economic and Managerial Expertise in Britain Since 1948’. The research team have recently completed a study of the development of the National Institute for Health Research [NIHR] and are currently working on a history of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence [NICE].