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Genomics researchers awarded $23 million


Toronto, On – The Ontario Genomics Institute (OGI) has announced funding of over $23.8 million ($11.3 million from Genome Canada, $12.5 million from co-funding) for genomics research projects.

As part of the Genome Canada Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition, which as a whole awarded over $58 million to 16 projects across the country, the researchers in Ontario will be focusing on biomonitoring, understanding gene function with the aim of identifying genes or proteins for drug targets, and the creation of synthetic antibodies to target cancers and other diseases.

The first project, with a budget of $3 million, is led by Dr Mehrdad Hajibabaei, assistant professor, Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, and Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, and will be applying a high-throughput, next-generation sequencing approach for genomic analysis of biomonitoring samples to allow for thorough assessments of ecosystem health.

This project is located in Wood Buffalo National Park, a world heritage site and the world’s second largest natural protected area.

“This work fills the void of little baseline data and suitable techniques for both industry and government to measure ecological risk,” says Dr Hajibabaei. “The funding we have received will not only help improve methods to monitor environmental change, but will have a significant impact on helping prevent catastrophic habitat loss.”

The second project, with a budget of nearly $11 million, is the North American Conditional Mouse Mutagenesis Project (NorCOMM2), led by Drs Colin McKerlie, senior associate scientist, The Hospital for Sick Children, and staff scientist, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Steve Brown, director, MRC Harwell Mammalian Genetics Unit in the UK. This project will use mice as model systems to identify the roles of different genes in human disease.

“Central to biomedical research is the identification of genetic changes that underlie disease,” says Dr McKerlie. “This funding from Genome Canada supports a leading role for Canada within an international program to understand the function of all 20,000 genes in the genome and builds on the successes of the original NorCOMM project started in 2006. NorCOMM focused on developing and distributing a library of mouse embryonic stem cell lines carrying single gene trapped or targeted mutations across the mouse genome. This new NorCOMM2 project will let us put that resource to work to understand the function of those genes in normal biology and disease.”

The team, consisting of Canadian and UK researchers, will study the developmental problems and diseases that occur in 280 mouse models over the next three years. Each of the mouse models contain one abnormal or mutated gene and the team will ascertain the effect of each mutation to identify the function of the gene, and determine whether that gene, or the protein it produces, could be a drug target or used in a diagnostic test.

The third project, with a budget of nearly $10 million, is led by Drs Sachdev Sidhu, associate professor, and Charles Boone, professor, Banting and Best Department of Medical Research, University of Toronto, and will work towards developing a process and infrastructure for efficient and large-scale production of synthetic antibody reagents to target cancer and other devastating diseases.

This project will ultimately yield candidate therapeutic antibodies for commercialization by targeting in excess of 100 secreted proteins that are associated with cancer. The market for antibody therapeutics is expected to reach $26 billion this year.

“This funding will allow our team, consisting of leading cancer biologists from the Toronto research community, to generate and validate hundreds of antibodies against a host of cancer-associated targets,” says Dr Sidhu. “These antibodies will be powerful tools for discovery research and a significant subset will be candidates for new therapeutic entities. This program will have a major impact on basic research in cancer biology, on therapeutic options for cancer treatment, and on the development of commercial biotechnology in Canada.”

Also funded is a project focusing on genome wide approaches to study medulloblastomas, the most common form of childhood brain cancer, to develop markers that will more accurately classify the tumours for treatment. This project co- led by Dr Michael Taylor, neurosurgeon, The Hospital for Sick Children and Dr Marco Marra from the British Columbia Cancer Agency.