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VBI Establishes Genomics Research Lab to Offer Sequencing and Analysis; Plans CLIA Certification

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Virginia Tech's Virginia Bioinformatics Institute has established a Genomics Research Laboratory that will serve both internal researchers as well as outside groups needing sequencing and bioinformatics.

The laboratory is currently equipped with around five Illumina machines, including one HiSeq 2000, one MiSeq, and three Genome Analyzers; an Ion Torrent PGM; and Roche's 454 GS FLX.

Over time, the facility will expand its fleet of sequencers and also establish a CLIA-certified, CAP-accredited laboratory, Stanley Hefta, director of strategic planning and business development at VBI, told In Sequence.

The goal is to make the center a "one-stop shop" for researchers' genomics needs, Hefta said, offering not just sequencing, but tissue and DNA extraction, sample prep, bioinformatics analysis, and comparative genomics.

The Genomics Research Laboratory will work with researchers at Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke, Va., to "make genomics — not just the sequencing, but doing the genetic research — a centerpiece for those institutions," Hefta said.

The laboratory plans to secure independent funding for research and will offer services to commercial entities such as pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

Currently, around 60 percent of the work is internal research to support VBI projects and around 40 percent is from outside researchers with other academic institutions, the government, and commercial entities.

Hefta said VBI decided to establish the laboratory because requests for sequencing services have been skyrocketing.

"With the decrease in cost of genomic sequencing, it's opening that up to many researchers that wouldn't have even thought about it long ago," he said. "We're getting inquiries from everywhere: to sequence camels from Saudi Arabia, buffaloes that are dying for some unknown reason, peanuts — just all life forms."

The Illumina HiSeq and GA machines produce the majority of the sequence at the lab. The Ion Torrent PGM and MiSeq are used primarily for bacterial sequencing and the 454 GS FLX is used for applications that require longer read lengths.

Hefta said that moving forward, the lab will consider bringing in newer technology like the Ion Proton and HiSeq 2500, depending on funding and research needs.

"If the Proton pans out and works the way [Life Technologies] is saying it does, I think that will be a platform we'll acquire right away," he said.

Within the next year, Hefta is planning to establish a CAP-accredited and CLIA-certified facility that would begin offering clinical sequencing services.

The lab could then work with pharmaceutical companies and develop its own laboratory-developed tests. Hefta said he anticipates doing targeted gene panels as well as whole-exome or whole-genome sequencing.

In cancer, for instance, he said one option would be to develop a targeted sequencing panel of genes that are known to be mutated in cancer. But "for other things, where discovery is needed, we'd do whole-genome sequencing."

The clinical sequencing offerings would extend beyond just sequencing to include development and validation of the tests and kits, as well as comparative analyses, he said.

Aside from working with pharmaceutical companies, he said another option would be to partner with companies such as Quest or Covance to develop tests that could then be broadly commercialized.

The lab is not currently focused on any particular disease area, Hefta said, but would develop tests for a range of disorders, depending on funding and customer demand.

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