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Vanderbilt Sees Benefits in Consolidating Cores into VANTAGE

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Vanderbilt University Medical Center said the $8.6 million, two-year federal stimulus grant it recently won toward a consolidation and expansion of a collaborative shared resource will enable the institution to accommodate new genomics tools and carry out its research more efficiently.

It's too soon, however, to say whether the creation of the Vanderbilt Technologies for Advanced Genomics, or VANTAGE, will grow as large as sequencing centers at Baylor College of Medicine's Human Genome Sequencing Center, or the University of Washington Genome Center in Seattle.

"These are 'factories' with, for example, dozens of next-generation resequencing devices in place. This kind of high-throughput resequencing will be an enabling tool for personalized medicine, and whether VANTAGE grows to this scale or some other technology develops to enable that vision is up in the air, I guess," Dan Roden, VUMC's assistant vice chancellor for personalized medicine, told GenomeWeb Daily News.

What is more certain, he added, is that the grant supports the purchase of new equipment totaling less than $100,000, with intent to "modernize and update capabilities across all the laboratories that will participate in VANTAGE. The institution is providing some matching funds," Roden added.

Roden and Alfred George Jr., director of VUMC's Division of Genetic Medicine as well as the DNA sequencing facility, discussed the creation of VANTAGE and its effect on genomics research at VUMC in separate interviews this week. VANTAGE will co-locate and expand four existing core facilities as well as BioVU, the medical center's DNA databank.

The DNA Resources Core and the DNA Sequencing Facility will relocate from Light Hall, while the Functional Genomics Shared Resource Core, formerly the Microarray Shared Resource, will move from Medical Research Building II.

All three core facilities will move into the basement of Medical Center North, along with the Flow Cytometry Core, the Genome Technology Core, and a soon-to-be-installed robotic store for BioVU, which is funded by a separate federal grant.

BioVU, launched in January, maintains a repository of more than 80,000 de-identified DNA samples from patients who had treatment at Vanderbilt Hospital or its clinics. As reported last week by GWDN sister publication BioInform, BioVU scientists and clinicians recently combined data from the DNA biorepository with an electronic medical records infrastructure to detect known genotype-phenotype associations for five diseases.

"The BioVU repository and the medium and high-throughput genotyping platforms that will support it will now be located in the same physical space. That will be a real savings in terms of efficiencies," said Roden, who is also director of BioVU.

For the BioVU robotic store and Genome Technology core, the moves will mark the first time they have ever had physical space of their own.

"I am a big believer in synergies brought about by human contact," said Roden. "VANTAGE will allow many laboratories and investigators who are currently collaborating but are scattered across the medical school campus to be consolidated.

"I think the most obvious next step that this resource would support is upcoming resequencing technologies – having all the faculty and staff in one location will allow this and other new technologies to be much more easily implemented."

The tentative floor plan for VANTAGE places the microarray/functional genomics core space contiguous with the current Genome Technology core space, where next-generation sequencing takes place, which in turn would be contiguous with the current conventional DNA sequencing facility.

The cores that comprise VANTAGE now employ about 25 staffers, a number George said may increase slightly. "Probably we'll get over 30 once everything is deployed and growing," he said.

George said VANTAGE is expected to benefit more than 470 NIH-funded investigators — the DNA sequencing facility alone supports 240 — within VUMC and elsewhere at Vanderbilt University, such as the biological sciences department, and faculty members of Meharry Medical College, who can use VUMC's current core facilities under a strategic alliance between the Nashville institutions. More than 900 active research projects that have received more than $235 million in grants have made use of the core facilities.

Other collaboration partners have used VUMC's core facilities, and will continue to do so when they consolidate into VANTAGE, George said.

"It's a really incredible community resource that almost certainly will attract more investigators, different investigators, and also, I think, will provide the basis for some large-scale genetic and genomic projects that just can't be done at the moment," George said. VANTAGE "will be more of a continuum of space resources rather than separate compartments, and that's one of the advantages as well. There will be the ability to share equipment across those core facilities, and to have a mixture of expertise free floating among those facilities."

The stimulus grant amounts to most of the $10 million originally sought by VUMC. The difference reflects a federal cut of the project's construction contingency funding, which the university will now fund in addition to another $1 million of VANTAGE's total cost, George said.

"I think the whole project is going to be more like $11 million," he said.

VANTAGE will operate in 12,500 square feet of laboratory space to be renovated. Final plans are expected to be completed by early summer, followed a few months later by construction. "We're probably 20 months — that's a rough guess — from being able to move in" to the modernized space in early 2012, George said.

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