Professor Sir Ed Southern, founder of Oxford Gene Technology (OGT), a provider of innovative clinical genetics and diagnostic solutions to advance molecular medicine, has been awarded the 2011 Medical Research Council (MRC) Millennium Medal. Sir Ed becomes one of only four researchers to have received the prize since it was inaugurated in the year 2000, which recognises an MRC-funded scientist whose outstanding research has made a major contribution towards the health and wealth of our society. Described by Professor Anthony Hamilton, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, as a “scientist, innovator, entrepreneur and philanthropist”, Sir Ed’s work developing the technology underpinning modern DNA microarrays, has “transformed healthcare and improved the lives of many patients” according to MRC chief executive Sir John Savill.
Upon receiving the MRC Millennium Medal, Sir Ed said: “I am greatly thankful for the support of the Medical Research Council. The MRC has very high standards, and to be funded by them is a commendation in itself.” Sir Ed has made major contributions to the field of DNA research, and in 1975 invented a revolutionary technique for identifying whether specific sequences are contained in a sample of DNA, which became known subsequently as the ‘Southern Blot’. Commenting on Sir Ed’s pioneering work, Sir John Savill suggested that “without the blotting technique, so many other discoveries and advances would not have been made.” A second invention, based on the attachment of a multitude of specific DNA probes to a solid substrate, laid the groundwork for the development of modern DNA microarrays, which allow the entire human genome to be investigated quickly and easily. This approach has many applications in genomic research, clinical diagnosis and drug discovery, and has subsequently spawned an industry worth billions of pounds.
In 1995, Sir Ed founded the biotechnology company OGT, with the mission of developing advanced molecular tools for biologists. By leveraging its world class expertise in microarray technology and genomic data analysis, the company provides high quality products and services for use in cytogenetics research, genome wide association studies and copy number variation (CNV) detection. The company has also recently invested in developing a targeted sequencing service and a novel biomarker discovery platform that uses protein-based array technology. By combining these research solutions, customers have access to a complete genomic analysis and biomarker discovery toolkit that provides high quality data using independently accredited laboratory procedures. In addition to holding the roles of Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Ed also leads OGT’s Exploratory Research group which seeks to provide innovative solutions to scientific problems, including single cell analysis, single molecule imaging and cancer mutation screening. Sir Ed has also established two charities: the Kirkhouse Trust which works to improve crops in semi-arid regions of East and West Africa; and the Edina Trust which promotes and funds science in schools.