Biological Sciences

Game-changing gene therapies are focus of £14m research hub

The University is to establish a new research and innovation hub focused on developing gene therapies to help treat or cure disease.

Professor Susan Rosser

The £14.25m Engineered Genetic Control Systems for Advanced Therapeutics Hub will develop improved gene therapy techniques for patients with serious conditions.

It will create new biological tools to improve the effectiveness and safety of gene therapies, testing them in cancers, cardiovascular disease and rare diseases.

The hub, led by Professor Susan Rosser, will bring together a multidisciplinary team from the Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Imperial College London and the CRUK Scotland Institute.

Research hubs

The new centre is one of six announced as part of a £100m UK-wide investment in engineering biology. 

Funding for the new hubs was provided by the UKRI Technology Missions Fund, with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). 

Researchers from the School of Biological Sciences will lead or be involved in three of the six new hubs.  

Professor Louise Horsfall is involved in a hub, led by Cranfield University, to develop the natural abilities of micro-organisms in cleaning up our planet.

Professor Stephen Wallace is involved in a hub, led by the University of Portsmouth, to develop new biological technologies to convert plastic waste into high-value chemicals and products.

Targeted Treatment

Gene therapies work by replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy one, inactivating disease-causing genes or introducing new or modified genes to help treat a disease.

For gene therapies to be effective and safe they need to be delivered to the right place in the body, at the right level and for the right length of time. 

The hub will build and test genetic components that allow precise control over a therapeutic gene’s level of activity and duration of action inside human cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry will enable this research through its highly automated platform specialising in the assembly of large DNA fragments. It is is one of only a handful of foundries around the world that has the capability to design, build and test DNA in this way.

The hub will also develop and test a range of delivery systems, which involve the use of viruses, stripped of their disease-causing abilities, to insert therapeutic genes into the correct tissue.

Professor Rosser worked with the Strategic Partnerships Team at Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service, to secure the support and engagement from industry necessary for the Hub.


 Gene therapies have the potential to revolutionise healthcare by treating or even curing disease. But for them to be effective and safe they need to be delivered to the right place in the body, in the right amount, and for the right length of time. This is where engineering biology comes in. By developing a suite of tools and training scientists for academia and industry, we hope to realise the UK’s potential to be a global leader in engineering biology for healthcare and, ultimately, to improve global health.

Professor Susan Rosser Professor of Synthetic Biology, Principal Investigator for the Engineering Biology Mission Hub

Artificial intelligence and digital technologies are creating previously unimaginable opportunities to transform healthcare and how we treat disease. To realise these opportunities, we need to bring together different disciplines with the public, private and third sectors, as well as ensure access to cutting edge facilities such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry – the world’s largest automated DNA factory. Our Strategic Partnerships Team is focussed on building new collaborations that are ambitious in both scope and scale. We are proud to have harnessed significant industry engagement in this Engineering Biology Mission Hub and we are very excited about what we can now achieve, together, to meet our most pressing global data, climate and health challenges.

Dr Andrea TaylorDirector of the Strategic Partnership Team at Edinburgh Innovations

I am delighted that our researchers will play such pivotal roles in driving the next wave of innovation in engineering biology. These exciting technologies could help deliver a wide range of benefits to society, by providing new tools to tackle challenges in areas including health, environment and sustainability. The research carried within these new hubs will contribute directly to the core missions of our recently launched Research and Innovation Strategy 2030, which aims to galvanise activity across the whole University to tackle urgent global challenges.

Professor Sir Peter MathiesonPrincipal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh

Related Links

UKRI Announcement

Susan Rosser

Louise Horsfall

Stephen Wallace

Joanna Sadler   

Centre for Engineering Biology

Edinburgh Genome Foundry