October 18, 2017

GA4GH Strikes Formal Collaborations with 15 International Genomic Data Initiatives

Orlando, Florida (October 17, 2017) – The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) has struck formal collaborations with 15 international genomic data initiatives as 2017 Driver Projects, including Genomics England, Australian Genomics and the U.S. All of Us Research Program. The announcement, made at the GA4GH 5th Plenary Meeting, comes as part of the launch of GA4GH Connect: A 5-year Strategic Plan. GA4GH Connect aims to drive uptake of standards and frameworks for genomic data sharing within the research and healthcare communities in order to enable responsible sharing of clinical-grade genomic data by 2022.

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October 17, 2017

Global Alliance for Genomics and Health charts path to the future of genomic data sharing

Technology and DNA

The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) has launched a new five-year strategic plan to develop international standards that will enable the responsible and secure sharing of genomic data for both scientific and clinical purposes. The plan, known as GA4GH Connect, was launched at the organization’s 5th Plenary Meeting in Orlando, Florida.  

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October 4, 2017

New software uses machine learning to identify mutations in tumours without reference tissue samples 

DNA sequence

One of the main steps in analyzing cancer genomic data is to find somatic mutations, which are non-hereditary changes in DNA that may give rise to cancer. To identify these mutations, researchers will often sequence the genome of a patient’s tumour as well as the genome of their normal tissue and compare the results. But what if normal tissue samples aren’t available?

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September 25, 2017

New study uncovers the role of mitochondrial DNA in prostate cancer

An image of mitochondria

Since mitochondria are inherited maternally, it may strike some as an odd place to go looking for connections to prostate cancer. But recently an international research team explored that relationship by looking at how the small amount of DNA contained in mitochondria, a cellular structure, is involved in prostate cancer.

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September 6, 2017

Innovative study brings next-generation genomic sequencing to more Ontario cancer patients

Toronto (September 6, 2017) – Understanding a cancer’s genetics is key to selecting targeted therapies that are likely to be of the most benefit to a patient. The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) today announced a new study, called Ontario-wide Cancer TArgeted Nucleic Acid Evaluation (OCTANE). OCTANE will use next-generation genome sequencing technology to bring a unified molecular profiling approach to five Ontario cancer centres.

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August 9, 2017

Mutation in prostate tumours shown to change epigenetic identity, the make-up of DNA

Prostate cancer researchers have mapped the impact of an acquired mutation that alters epigenetic identity, the make-up of DNA, in about 50 per cent of patient tumour samples. The discovery also identifies a new opportunity for targeted therapy.

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August 9, 2017

Importance of large database of genetic variants reinforced in a new study

A newly published paper in Genetics in Medicine has reinforced the fundamental importance of collecting information about genetic variances in a single large database.  With so much important genetic information being used globally to understand the underlying genetic influences of diseases, researchers and clinicians need an accessible repository to share this information.

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June 7, 2017

EAGLE will help cancer research soar

Dr. Hilary Edgington

 Researchers from OICR and other institutions have created a new software program called EAGLE that mines data to understand the interactions between a person’s environment and their genetics. The tool has far-reaching uses, including oncology, and can provide researchers and clinicians with important information that can help personalize treatments for patients.

To learn more we spoke to Dr. Hillary Edgington, a Postdoctoral Fellow in OICR’s Informatics technology platform, which is led by Dr. Lincoln Stein. Edgington and her collaborators recently shared their research in the journal Nature Methods.

What was reported in your recent article?

One of the most important goals in biological research is to understand the ways that our genes can be impacted by the environment around us. The activity of genes can change due to a number of external factors from medication use to air pollution. This study introduces a new software tool called EAGLE to investigate how interactions between a person’s genotype and environmental exposures affect the way his or her genes are expressed.

What is unique about EAGLE?

EAGLE takes advantage of the fact that sometimes the two copies of a gene are unequally expressed, which allows us to compare small differences in those two copies within an individual where they operate in the same environmental conditions. This tool was shown to improve, in both power and accuracy, on detecting associations over standard interaction testing methods. Using EAGLE to test for interactions in two large cohorts (the Depression Genes and Networks study cohort and CARTaGENE) revealed significant associations between gene expression and environmental variables, including depression, exercise, blood pressure medication use and body mass index. This information is critical in advancing personalized healthcare initiatives, as it gives researchers and clinicians information with which to predict an individual’s health risks based on their unique genomic profile and lifestyle factors.

How can these findings be used in the area of cancer?

EAGLE is a tool that can be applied to data from any source. The information gleaned from the application of EAGLE to data provided by cancer patients – including testing for interactions between patients’ specific mutational profiles and exposures such as therapeutic treatments, the microenvironment of the tumour, or properties of the immune system – could help clinicians make more accurate predictions about individual patients’ prognoses and therapeutic options in the future.

What challenges did you and your collaborators face while creating EAGLE?

One of the main challenges with developing any new method is making sure that the results will be consistent across different groups of individuals. It is critical to perform tests in different groups in order to make sure that there is replication of any findings. For this reason, collaboration between different research groups is critical, and this is what brought the groups from OICR and Stanford University together on this project. At OICR we were able to use the resources that we have through the CARTaGENE cohort to perform a replication study. It showed that the associations EAGLE detected in the Depression Genes and Networks cohort are consistent across populations.

What are the next steps planned with this research project?

We will be able to use EAGLE in many future projects as a way to discover previously unknown interactions between any environmental variable of interest and the regulation of genes. As a follow-up to this study we may look more specifically at the gene-environment associations we observed in order to determine what the mechanism is that causes differences in gene expression.

June 5, 2017

OICR donates sequencer to Fleming College for high-tech training

Individuals from OICR and Fleming College pose for a photo in front of the sequencer.

Fleming’s Biotechnology-Advanced students have received a significant boost to their career preparation with the help of The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR). Their investment in people is recognized through a very generous donation of an Illumina HiSeq DNA Sequencer to the Biotechnology-Advanced program, a benefit to Fleming College valued at $600,000. This new equipment will provide students with hands-on experience using cutting-edge automated instruments that are utilized widely across the biotechnology industry.

“Some of the best technicians in OICR’s genomic labs are Fleming College graduates. We are proud to pay-it-forward by helping the College give future life sciences researchers in Ontario hands-on training opportunities on real genomics equipment.” says Paul Krzyzanowski, Program Manager of Genome Technologies, OICR. “Illumina equipment is the backbone of most sequencing labs and it’s essential for today’s students to become familiar with the complexity around these machines with hands-on experience.”

The remarkable relationship between OICR and Fleming College has flourished over the last nine years. With its state of the art facilities and research, OICR has become a highly sought after internship agency for Fleming students since the first placement student in 2008. The support from OICR and Illumina helps Fleming College to lead the way in biotechnology training; contributing to excellence in academic programming that includes relevant experiences. The hands-on learning creates a positive impact towards the future of Fleming students and alumni, the success of employers and especially those who benefit from cancer research.

“We are very grateful for the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research for their investment in our students,” says Biotechnology Program Coordinator Ashvin Mohindra. “OICR provides a practical training component through their in-kind gifts and placement opportunities for our students. With their help, we are also pleased to meet OICRs employment needs which is proven with the hiring of more than 18 Fleming College graduates to fill their high-tech positions.”

The in-kind donation would have not been possible without the tireless effort of OICR and Illumina, the sequencer manufacturer and third party liquid handler software provider. The College would like to specifically recognize and thank everyone at OICR who made these donations possible (Lee Timms, Jessica Miller, Paul Krzyzanowski, Tom Hudson, Mike Kostiuk, Susan Hockley, Jeremy Johns, and Howard Simkevitz) and the staff at Illumina for their tireless help and expertise in setting up the equipment (Lisa Lock, Peter Ayache and Mike Ramsey).

OICR, a global leader in healthcare, research and innovation, is dedicated to exploring the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Their commitment to exploring cancer extends beyond the lab; OICR invests in people who can make novel discoveries.

Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Fleming Ties magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of Fleming College. The original can be found here (PDF): https://flemingcollege.ca/PDF/FlemingTies/fleming-ties-spring-2017.pdf

May 3, 2017

Study bringing more precision medicine to Ontario’s cancer patients

 

A technician holds a blood sample and writes down information.

The advent of genomic sequencing and targeted therapies has opened the door to new ways of diagnosing and treating cancer. The Ontario-wide Cancer Targeted Nucleic Acid Evaluation (OCTANE) program is a new, province-wide initiative supported by OICR that will allow more patients to benefit from these innovations while also helping to advance cancer research in Ontario.

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April 13, 2017

Could diagnosing cancer as rare diseases improve outcomes for patients?

Dr. John Bartlett

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer amongst women in Canada and worldwide, but despite its prevalence, a group of researchers believes that it should often be treated as a rare disease. Doing so would change clinical approaches and improve treatment for patients.

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April 4, 2017

OICR provides students a window into possible careers over March Break

Three students pose for a photo.

For three science-obsessed high school students March Break wasn’t a time to kick back and relax. Instead the students, Cameron, Chris and Zev, spent the week at OICR gaining knowledge and hands on experience in genomics and bioinformatics as part of the Gene Researcher for a Week program.

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