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Renaming its Genome Center, Wash U Expands Focus to Clinical Applications of Sequencing


By Monica Heger

Washington University
has renamed its Genome Center the Washington University Genome Institute, marking its commitment to the clinical applications of sequencing.

With the name change, several faculty members of the university's medical school gained joint appointments with the Genome Institute, including oncologists, pediatricians, neurologists, immunologists, and infectious disease physicians.

The "overarching theme" is to help "take sequencing to the clinic," Elaine Mardis, co-director of the institute, told Clinical Sequencing News.

The change will include a broadening in the types of sequencing activities that are done at the institute, with the aim of moving beyond purely research-oriented projects and toward those with a clinical bent.

This move has already been underway for some time. For example, said Mardis, the institute's recently launched effort to use next-gen sequencing to develop personalized breast cancer vaccines is a good example of the types of projects the institute will focus on (CSN 4/26/2011).

That project incorporates not only sequencing, but also requires working closely with surgeons and immunologists, said Mardis.

Cancer genomics, which has been a major focus of Wash U's sequencing efforts, will remain prominent, but researchers at the institute have a range of other projects planned. For example, they intend to study heritable diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration, both of which cause blindness. They also plan to sequence the genomes of patients with cleft lip and palate, type II diabetes, autism, and metabolic syndrome. For infectious diseases, the first focus will be on sequencing methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Additionally, the joint hires to the Genome Institute and medical school will "give [the genomics researchers] an opportunity to interact with clinicians," said Mardis, and will enable the two communities to work together to make sequencing technology clinically useful.

"There's so much more that can be done on technology development to make it clinically applicable," Mardis said, including figuring out the right standards for sequencing patients, and which technology is the most suitable for specific clinical applications.

Part of that work will involve figuring out the appropriate steps for transitioning sequencing into a CLIA-certified and CAP-accredited laboratory. Washington University's medical school currently has a CLIA-certified lab, said Mardis, so if researchers uncover clinically actionable mutations by next-gen sequencing, those results can then be verified in the medical school's CLIA lab by certified methods. For the time being, therefore, Mardis said the institute would not need to perform next-gen sequencing in a CLIA lab.

She predicted that within the next year, targeted sequencing and exome sequencing would begin "making the transition to the clinic," with data analysis continuing to be the major hurdle for whole-genome sequencing.

Have topics you'd like to see covered by Clinical Sequencing News? Contact the editor at mheger [at] genomeweb [.] com.