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$16M funding supports genomics research projects

Toronto, ON – Genome Canada has announced nearly $16 million in funding for four new research projects under the third round of its Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP).

GAPP projects partner academic researchers with users of genomics (including industry, provincial governments, non-profits, or other organizations) to develop innovations that are expected to have considerable economic and social impacts within the near term.

The four projects involve total funding of $15.7 million, which includes $5.2 million through Genome Canada with the balance (about $10.5 million) provided by co-funding partners including the genomics users. Twelve projects previously received funding under the first two rounds of the program.

The projects receiving funding in this round are:

Toward a national framework for clinical cancer genome profiling in Canadian hospitals. Project leaders: Suzanne Kamel-Reid, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (University Health Network); Jeff Sumner, LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services. Lead genome centre: Ontario Genomics Institute. Total project funding: $6 million. Description: Approximately 200,000 Canadians are diagnosed with cancer each year. More than one in four of these patients can benefit from targeted treatment based on a genomic analysis of their tumours. However, at present this breakthrough testing is not widely available and is currently only being used in a clinical trial setting for patients with advanced cancers at one Toronto hospital, and its collaborators. This genomics project between Dr. Suzanne Kamel-Reid of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (University Health Network) and LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services is the first step in providing national market access to this potentially vital information. The project aims to develop a cloud-based cancer genome analysis infrastructure and shared interfaces between Princess Margaret and LifeLabs that will make this vital information available to all Canadians.

Novel rapid diagnostic tools for lung transplantation: bringing omics to the bedside. Project leaders: Shaf Keshavjee, University of Toronto; Thomas Hartnett, United Therapeutics (Lung Bioengineering Inc.). Lead genome centre: Ontario Genomics Institute. Total project funding: $6 million. Description: A considerable number of patients needing a lung transplant die due to a lack of donor organs deemed suitable for transplant. Now, a proposed genomics approach to assessing donor lungs has the potential to save thousands of lives while reducing healthcare costs. The project, led by Dr. Shaf Keshavjee of Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN) in collaboration with the U.S. biotech firm Lung Bioengineering Inc., a subsidiary of United Therapeutics Corp., intends to develop a genomics-based diagnostic test to determine whether a donor lung meets transplant requirements. At present, such evaluations are based on physiological assessments alone. As a result, less than 15 per cent of lungs, the healthiest, are deemed suitable for transplant, leaving unused countless “marginal” lungs that also could save lives. A genomics-based analysis could increase the number of transplant-acceptable lungs to nearly 50 per cent, resulting in a greater number of patients receiving this life-saving intervention. Using diagnostic test kits, donor lung conditions would be precisely monitored through biomarker analyses. Under Dr. Keshavjee’s research leadership, some biomarkers have already been isolated that can predict lung quality. Building on these findings, this new initiative will result in the creation of rapid diagnostic tools that could be used in transplant centres around the world.

Fast tests for rating and amelioration of conifers (FastTRAC). Project leaders: Jean Bousquet, Université Laval; Guy Smith, FPInnovations/Canadian Wood Fibre Centre. Lead genome centre: Génome Québec. Total project funding: $3.4 million. Description: A research partnership between the Canada Research Chair in Forest Genomics of Université Laval and FPInnovations, along with the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and various users of the forest sector, intends to use the latest genomics findings to grow better trees that can help the Canadian industry compete more effectively on a global level. Specifically, the partnership is looking to develop more efficiently spruce trees that will grow faster, have a higher wood quality and are more resistant to insect pests. This project aims to harness the knowledge derived from previous Genome Canada-funded research to fast track the applications of genomic selection tests called FastTRAC, and tailor Canadian forests to meet new market needs and environmental challenges. Specifically, the new genomic profiling and selection tools will be applied to white and Norway spruce planting stocks of three major forest sector users—the Québec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, J.D. Irving Ltd and the New Brunswick Tree Improvement Council. Once validated at the operational scale, the new technology will become available to other members of the Canadian forest sector.

Application of genomics for increasing seed oil content in soybean. Project leaders: Randall Weselake, University of Alberta; Vic Knauf, Arcadia Biosciences. Lead genome centre: Genome Alberta. Total project funding: $0.3 million. Description: How to squeeze more oil out of protein-rich soybeans? That’s the challenge taken up by a leading international agricultural biotechnology company and a University of Alberta scientist. Building on findings by Dr. Randall Weselake of the University of Alberta, this project intends to use genome analysis to isolate soybean seed trait targets with the potential to stimulate enhanced oil production without negatively affecting protein levels. Arcadia Biosciences, a U.S.-based agricultural technology company, will leverage proprietary non-genetically modified tools and genetics resources to rapidly validate the best target or targets and lead commercializing the findings throughout North and South America.