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Keck Foundation Awards Fred Hutch $1M for Sequencing Project

By a GenomeWeb Staff Reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The W.M. Keck Foundation today said it has awarded the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center a $1 million grant to sequence DNA from the human immune system.

The project, the goal of which is to provide a greater understanding of the genetic signatures of a large number of pathogenic exposures, will start with 17 common viruses and bacteria. The researchers will investigate changes related to environment exposure shared by individuals with the same disease.

A research team led by Harlan Robins, an assistant faculty member at the Hutch, and Chris Carlson, an associate faculty member at the Seattle-based research organization, will sequence tens of thousands of antibody genes per person, beginning this summer.

The technology being used in the project was invented by Robins and Carlson in collaboration with Edus Warren, an associate member at the Hutch, and is available to the research community through Adaptive TCR Technologies, a Hutch spinout founded by Robins and Carlson. Last year, Adaptive TCR received a $150,000 grant to develop the sequencing technology, which uses use T-cell receptor sequence information to study immune system reconstitution following cord blood transplantation, immune responses to vaccines, and association of specific TCRs with autoimmune disorders.

According to the Hutch, the technology will enable researchers to sequence more than 100 times the genes that can be sequenced with existing technology.

The hope is that the research could lead to the development of a blood-based test that would tell which pathogens a person has been exposed to, what viruses and bugs the person is currently fighting, and the state of his or her immune system in its ability to fight future pathogenic threats.

"The new technology allows us to see how immune systems respond to exposure, rather than just assuming," Carlson said in a statement today. "We have a strategy that allows us to go really deep, with lots of immune cells, to see the forest rather than the trees."

He and Robins plan on developing an "extensive" list of unique cell signatures that correspond with specific pathogenic exposures and disease states. Clinicians would be able to quickly and inexpensively access such information to diagnose and predict disease risk, the Hutch said.

Robins said that the project will initially look at samples with high-prevalence viruses such as herpes simplex, and eventually move to study less prevalent viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

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