University of Calgary

$5.5-million gift expands university’s genetic research capabilities

UToday HomeJune 11, 2013

Dr. Francois Bernier, head of the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Calgary, left, and Dr. Jillian Parboosingh, laboratory head, Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory, Alberta Children’s Hospital, and their colleagues use a combination of genome sequencers and computer analysis to conduct their research.Dr. Francois Bernier, head of the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Calgary, left, and Dr. Jillian Parboosingh, laboratory head, Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory, Alberta Children’s Hospital, and their colleagues use a combination of genome sequencers and computer analysis to conduct their research. Photo by Laura HerpergerThe University of Calgary has purchased three next-generation genome sequencers, thanks to a $5.5 million community gift from the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

This technology will allow researchers at the university and Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) to identify new genes that contribute to the development of diseases and to move genomic testing into mainstream clinical care.

“Genetic disorders can affect anyone – it’s a roll of the dice. Millions of Canadians live with these disorders,” says Dr. Francois Bernier, head of the Department of Medical Genetics at the university. “We have hundreds of unique cases in Alberta where patients are suffering from genetic diseases that we don’t know much about; we can’t name it, we don’t know how to treat it, and we don’t know how it’s inherited.”

Among the many studies enabled by this donation is a pilot study of 10 families with diseases believed to be genetically linked. All 20,000 genes in each patient will be sequenced to find answers to their health problems.

How genome sequencers work

Bernier and his colleagues will use a combination of the genome sequencers and complex computer analysis to conduct their research. To run a genome test, the DNA is extracted from a blood sample, sequenced on the machine and the results are analyzed by a bioinformatician.

The genome sequencers are also being used to develop clinical testing. Dr. Jillian Parboosingh, laboratory head, Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory, Alberta Children’s Hospital and researcher at the university’s ACHRI institute, is working in this area.

“Currently in my clinical laboratory, I can only read a single gene at a time which is a slow and labour-intensive process,” says Parboosingh. “These new sequencers offer the power to sequence hundreds and even thousands of genes at a time, greatly decreasing the time and costs of arriving at a genetic diagnosis.”

Bernier adds, “These machines will be the backbone upon which personalized medicine is introduced into clinical care.”

Difference made by donations to research

“We are so grateful to the generous donors who have supported the launch of this incredible genomics facility,” says Saifa Koonar, president and CEO of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation. “Their initial investments, along with future donations to genomic medicine, are funding the technology and scientists integral to advancements in child health. We know the discoveries made through this new facility will make a tremendous difference to children and families here in Calgary, across Canada and around the world.”

“Our genetic sequencing facility offers clinicians and researchers the opportunity to undertake research and provide expert clinical care to Albertans. As a valued partner, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation is helping to support our Eyes High vision of becoming a top five research university by 2016,” says Dr. Brent Scott, executive director of the ACHRI and Husky Energy Chair in Child and Maternal Health.

The genomics work is being done in partnership with the University of Calgary, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

 

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