Prof Steve Marsh and Dr James Robinson standing in front of an HLA diagram

World-leading genetic database marks its 25th anniversary

February 8, 2024

This year marks the 25th year of operation of the world’s only centralised database of all the known variants of the HLA genes – the IPD-IMGT/HLA Database – which is managed by staff at Anthony Nolan.

This database is crucial in global transplant provision and research, by allowing clinicians and scientists to check up on the latest discovered variants of the HLA genes when matching patients with donors, or when researching new treatment strategies.

Managed by a small team of five researchers at the Anthony Nolan Research Institute (ANRI), in collaboration with EMBL-EBI (the European Bioinformatics Institute), the database was set up by Dr James Robinson and Professor Steven Marsh, and made public in 1998. Dr Robinson built the code entirely from scratch, and it became the world’s first public searchable database of the HLA variants.

The Database currently holds the sequences of over 38,000 variants for 45 HLA and HLA-related genes, and remains the world’s leading resource for the most up-to-date information on the HLA gene sequences. Its dedicated website attracts over one million views every year, and is constantly growing as researchers discover new HLA variants.

The HLA genes are the most highly varied (polymorphic) human genes ever discovered, and are crucial in matching patients with donors for any kind of organ or stem cell transplant. Since the HLA genes are a central part of how the immune system works, they’ve also been linked to many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, type 1 diabetes, and arthritis, to name just a few.

The IPD-IMGT/HLA Database is a cornerstone of global transplant science and research, and continues to be an important part of Anthony Nolan’s impact both within and beyond stem cell transplants.

To find out more about the impact of the IPD-IMGT/HLA Database in global research and healthcare, read more here. You can also learn about the teams in our HLA Informatics Group here.