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Award-winning geneticist inspired to expand scope of Project

THAI GENETICIST Prof Dr Vorasuk Shotelersuk, whose research project helped solve 100 undiagnosed cases of rare genetic diseases in children, has vowed to continue with his work in the field and expand the scope of the project.

Vorasuk, who is associated with the Centre of Excellence for Medical Genetics at Chulalongkorn University (CU), became the first Thai to win the Newton Fund Prize this year for his pathbreaking work.

Vorasuk said he would expand and strengthen the network among regional hospitals and CU’s Faculty of Medicine and Chulalongkorn Hospital to develop high-quality tools that could diagnose rare diseases in children. The scope of the work would cover a DNA sequence analysis programme and a large and more complete database on Thai people.

“The challenge I faced in the past was insufficient manpower with knowledge and interest on the matter. CU and Chulalongkorn Hospital had helped fund the research project [which fetched him the coveted Newton Fund prize] by raising money from inside and outside the country. If we have a bigger budget, we could help more patients,” said Vorasuk, who said he felt honoured to receive the award in November.

Vorasuk said he received the Newton Fund scholarship two years ago to study rare genetic diseases with a less than 1:2,000 prevalence rate in Thailand.

Such a prevalence rate qualified about 10,000 diseases.

Vorasuk said about 5 million people in Thailand were believed to be suffering from various rare genetic diseases and there were too few doctors with experience in treating these patients. Also, the diagnosis of such illnesses was difficult and took a long time.

He said the project has developed a network and system to diagnose these rare diseases with accuracy and much quicker – about two weeks – compared to up to seven years it took for certain diseases. He said this development would enable patients to receive specific treatments faster.

This year, Vorasuk shared the award with his UK partner, Prof Philip Beales, from UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health.

A second Chairman’s Award came Thailand’s way for a research project on shrimp health and disease control by Dr Kallaya Sritunyalucksana from the Shrimp-pathogen Interaction (SPI) Laboratory at BIOTIC and her UK partner Professor Grant Stentiford from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas). Each project will receive 200,000 pounds to further their research.

The Newton Fund Prize aims to incentivise researchers to participate in the Newton Fund as partners with the UK, and to work on the most important challenges facing Newton countries. The prize concept has been developed to demonstrate how UK partners Newton countries in solving global challenges.

For more information visit www.britishcouncil.or.th, as the British Council is one of 15 UK delivery partners for the Newton Fund.