February 3, 2021
OICR Genomics believes high-quality cancer research starts with high-quality data. Since inception, their labs have been committed to quality, and now accreditation is within reach
Standards are all around us – making our lives safer and easier in many ways. In both research and medicine, laboratory standards help evaluate a lab’s quality, reliability and efficiency. Research lab standards help scientists generate reliable data leading to reproducible discoveries, but in medicine, lab standards help clinicians make more accurate diagnoses and treatment decisions. These different applications call for different standards and sometimes different schools of thought.
Since inception, OICR Genomics has been building a bridge between research and medicine, developing new standards for innovative genomics technologies while refining lab procedures so they can serve as the trusted genomics services provider for Ontario’s cancer community. Today, OICR Genomics is proud to provide high-quality services for cancer researchers, clinicians, and the patients they serve.
The journey to accreditation
Achieving and maintaining accreditation is an exceptionally rigorous process that requires steadfast diligence and meticulous lab management over a sustained period of time. Since 2018, OICR Genomics has been developing and improving processes and procedures to achieve accreditation by the Institute for Quality Management in Healthcare (IQMH) and the College of American Pathologists (CAP), two well-recognized leaders in lab accreditation.
There are three key elements that make accreditation possible:
Dedicated people. Every member of OICR Genomics is important to the accreditation process. Accreditation requirements include effective documentation and training protocols, a strong track record of good lab practices, continuous sharing and monitoring of technical results, appropriate validation and uncertainty correction methods, an extensive array of standard operating procedures, and more. Successful accreditation requires the collective effort of all lab staff – from students to senior researchers.
“I’m proud of our team’s commitment to the community,” says Dr. Carolyn Ptak, Program Manager and Quality Assurance Lead of OICR Genomics. “We have a great group that is flexible, innovative and committed to quality.
Balanced priorities. Given the complex and rapidly evolving field of cancer genomics, many laboratories face challenges associated with compliance. New tools and innovations call for new standards. OICR Genomics continuously strives to balance innovation, performance, efficiency and safety under the leadership of Dr. Trevor Pugh.
“As research continues to evolve, OICR Genomics will continue to as well,” says Dr. Trevor Pugh, Senior Investigator and Director of the Joint Genomics Program at OICR and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. “We’re excited by the current advancements in genomics and we look forward to continuous improvement in the years to come.”
Stable support. Over the last fifteen years, OICR has mobilized the community to transform cancer care through collaborative networks, transformative initiatives and more. Many collaborators have recognized the value of working with OICR Genomics and it is with their consistent support that the foundations leading to accreditation were laid.
“We are thankful for all the talented scientists who have worked with us throughout the years on innumerable genomic sequencing projects,” says Dr. Paul Krzyzanowski, Director of the Genome Research Platform, “Our newly accredited services will be available to clinical, academic, and industrial research clients and we’re excited to be able to support a whole new scale and scope of projects.
For the community
Genomics has become a central discipline of cancer research. It has unlocked new opportunities to predict cancer earlier and match patients with the most effective medicines for their disease. In parallel, advances in research methods and sequencing technologies have expanded the affordability and accessibility of genetic sequencing. Reading human DNA and RNA is no longer a multi-year, multi-million-dollar initiative, it can be done in hours or days at a fraction of that cost. These opportunities, however, can only be realized through the translation of research and innovation. For OICR Genomics, translation is at the centre of their mission – and rigorous lab standards help accelerate translation.
Within the cancer community, OICR Genomics’ lab standards can mean different things to different people:
- For the researcher, high lab standards and accredited lab services help you generate high-quality, reliable data in an efficient way. This means you can have more trust in your results and more reproducible discoveries.
- For the patient, high lab standards can help ensure that the community is effectively gaining knowledge from your donated biological samples. Accreditation of your local genomics research lab can also help your care teams apply the most recent discoveries to your treatment planning.
- For the province, these internationally recognized standards will help research teams use resources efficiently and effectively, maximizing the impact of finite resources, while attracting high-profile genomic studies to Ontario.
“Accreditation allows us to explore transformative new approaches to achieve health benefits,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “Ultimately, accredited lab protocols help our lab infrastructure serve as bridge between research and improved health.”
May 10, 2019
Researchers look beyond an obvious hypothesis to connect patterns in gene expression with genome rearrangements, drawing attention to often-overlooked regions of the genome
If two different genes come together, the resulting gene fusion can have a new function that can cause or contribute to cancer. The discovery of cancer-causing gene fusions has led to the development of new therapies for many cancer types and sparked efforts to identify rearrangements that might yield new treatment targets. Often, however, researchers discover fusions with no effect on a cell, but a recent study has shown that the regions around these ‘fusions of unknown significance’ may be just as important to study as the fusion itself.
In their investigation into high grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC) – which has a five-year survival rate of only 20 per cent – the Genomics Program at OICR identified thousands of gene fusions and investigated the regions around these key points. As described in Scientific Reports, they found that the neighbouring regions are overexpressed – in essence, overactive – which may contribute to the cancerous nature of cells.
“Often, we find evidence of rearranged DNA without a clear picture of how rearrangements drive cancer,” says Dr. Paul Krzyzanowski, Director of Genome Technology Translation at OICR and primary author of the publication. “In this study, we found that the regions around gene fusions – in addition to the fusions themselves – are very active in cancer cells. This observation hints at the idea that we can look at broader genetic regions, and not just the location of a fusion by itself, to better understand how genomic rearrangements wreak havoc in cancer cells.”
In this study, we found that the regions around gene fusions – in addition to the fusions themselves – are very active in cancer cells
The observed overexpression of regions around fusions could be used to differentiate diseased cells from normal cells and lead to new cancer treatment approaches. The observations in this study are consistent with findings from the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes network, which identified patterns of overexpression in disturbed genomic regions across many cancer types.
Krzyzanowski says this work highlights a non-intuitive analytical approach for analyzing cancer-related gene fusions which will continue to be employed as OICR’s Ovarian Cancer Translational Research Initiative investigates how DNA rearrangements in ovarian cells drive cancer.
Read more about OICR’s Ovarian Cancer Translational Research Initiative or learn more about Genomics at OICR.
June 5, 2017
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
March 29, 2017
Polymerase chain reactions (PCR) are one of the most common tools used in molecular biology labs worldwide. This technique allows researchers to amplify, or increase, the amount of DNA in a sample so that they have more to work with. To keep track of the original molecules from a sample, chemical ‘barcodes’ are added. While barcodes serve an important purpose they can lead to errors and interfere with results. To prevent these cross-reactions a small team of international researchers have devised an ingenious method to ‘hide’ the barcodes when needed, leading to increased sensitivity and more reliable results.
Continue reading – New approach improves sensitivity of DNA sequencing, producing more reliable results
March 9, 2017
New molecular barcode technology reduces error rate in genomic sequencing to 1 in 10,000
Toronto (March 9, 2017) – Researchers at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), together with international collaborators, have invented a technique to avoid a major problem with common laboratory techniques and improve the sensitivity of important cancer tests.