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UCSF Launches New Center to Integrate Genomic Technology Into Healthcare Settings

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The University of California, San Francisco has launched a new center aimed at integrating genomic technology into healthcare settings. 

The center called the UCSF Center for Next-Gen Precision Medicine Diagnostics was launched with $2.4 million in startup funding from the Sandler Foundation and the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, as well as a $1.2 million grant from the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine, a public-private initiative announced by Gov. Jerry Brown in April.

A team of scientists and clinicians, as well as a health economist at the center will use next-generation sequencing technology to develop tests initially aimed at improving the diagnosis of encephalitis and meningitis, UCSF said, adding the technology will be developed mainly to identify infectious agents, such as bacteria and viruses that may be causing the ailments. Because hundreds of infectious agents and parasites can lead to encephalitis and meningitis, diagnosis can be challenging, the university said. 

"If you're sending out for tests of the agent you guess is at work, one at a time, it can take a heck of a long time to cover those hundreds of things," Joseph DeRisi, principal investigator and chair of the department of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, said in a statement. "But these pathogens all have nucleic acids — RNA or DNA — and a sequencing approach is the fastest and most comprehensive way to detect that." 

He added that technology developed at the new center will be compared with current "send-out" tests in terms of cost, scale, and turnaround times. 

Research will also be conducted at the center to develop new technologies for diagnosing meningitis and encephalitis resulting from autoimmune response, a basis of many cases of the diseases, UCSF said. When NGS tests are unable to detect an infectious agent, research will be conducted into the body's immune response, and new protein-based tests will be developed to specifically diagnose autoimmune causes of the diseases. 

The university noted that in more than half of meningitis and encephalitis cases, the causes are never identified.