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Chrissie Thirlwell, Mireille Gillings Professor of Cancer Genomics at the University of Exeter Medical School.

Cancer expert to lead South West NHS alliance in genomic medicine revolution

A leading cancer expert at the University of Exeter has been appointed as clinical director of a new regional network that aims to embed genomic medicine into routine care across the NHS.

Chrissie Thirlwell, Mireille Gillings Professor of Cancer Genomics at the University of Exeter Medical School, will take up the post newly formed South West Genomic Medicine Service Alliance (GMSA). The new alliance brings together NHS trusts, clinicians and researchers across a population of five million people, from Gloucestershire through to Cornwall. 

The alliance is the first of its kind in the world, aiming to ensure genomic medicine is routinely used in clinical decision-making, to improve treatment and care. It is aligned to the NHS’s goal to become the world’s first national health service to offer whole genome sequencing as part of routine care. This would benefit patients through quicker and more accurate diagnosis across a range of conditions, and matching people to the best medicine and treatment. This in turn would help improve outcomes such as cancer survival rates.

Professor Thirlwell, an oncologist at the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, is a national and international expert in research in to and management of neuroendocrine tumours in cancer, and also the integrated genomic analysis of cancer.

She said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be appointed as Clinical Director of the South West GMSA. The NHS Genomic Medicine Service builds on the fantastic outputs of the 100,000 Genomes Project, where the South West delivered above and beyond expectations. This new and ambitious service is the first of its kind globally, puts patients at the heart of its work and will enable genomic medicine to be embedded in day-to-day clinical decision-making across all specialties.” 

Professor Adrian Harris, Chief Medical Officer at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, said: "I’m absolutely delighted that Professor Chrissie Thirlwell has been appointed as the Clinical Director of the Southwest Genomic Medicine Service Alliance. Chrissie is an outstanding clinician and academic, with a national and international reputation for her work in genomic medicine.

“Chrissie is exactly the right person to lead the Genomic Medicine Service across the South West and her appointment underlines the commitment that our Trust and Exeter University have made to embedding genomics into clinical and academic practice."

Professor Janice Kay, Provost of the University of Exeter, said: “Congratulations to Chrissie on this outstanding opportunity to lead the NHS in the region to be firmly at the forefront of genomic medicine. It’s incredibly exciting to see how she will help pioneer ensuring patients have access to genomic medicine, to improve treatment and care, building on the region’s outstanding expertise in genomics in its research universities.”

Date: 18 May 2021

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