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The Impact of University Research

Ashraf Amlani - Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On October 15th, representatives from BC’s Lifesciences sector met to discuss the role of research and innovation in economic development. Part of Life Sciences BC Breakfast Series, the discussion was led by representatives from Boreal Genomics , GenomeDx Biosciences, and the President of University of British Columbia, Professor Stephen Toope. SBN’s events coordinator, Natalia Subrt, brings to you the insider’s perspective on what they had to say.


Dr. Stephen ToopeThe keynote speaker, Professor Stephen Toope, is the current President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia.  Professor Toope presented a study highlighting the impact UBC has on the provincial economy, and emphasized that UBC is dedicated not only to teaching and research, but also to facilitating a knowledge based economy. A peer-reviewed study commissioned by Professor Toope showed that when new knowledge is created at UBC, it makes UBC not just an economic player, but a driver, and contributes 5% to the total economic growth of the province. The next two presentations illustrated this very point.

Boreal Genomics, a company that spun out of the UBC Department of Physics in 2007, has demonstrated how UBC can serve as a driving force for innovation. Within 3 years, a discovery in the lab has been rapidly translated into a commercial product. Boreal Genomics has developed the technology and manufactured an instrument for purifying contaminated DNA samples using electric currents.  Since a lot of environmental and forensic DNA sample are not pure, very limited methods existed for isolation of specific DNA.  This innovative technology developed by Boreal Genomics allows for diluted samples to be processed with up to 100 times better yields and 1000 times fewer contaminants than existing technologies. The first beta unit of the Boreal Aurora shipped in mid-October 2010. This instrument allows for sample lysis and purification to be completed in a single step. Boreal’s next instrument, scheduled for release in 2011, is presently being finalized and will allow for the DNA purification and isolation of sequence specific DNA samples with a resolution of a single base-pair.

GenomeDxGenomeDx Biosciences, which was founded in Pasedena, CA, in 2007, demonstrates the important role university faculty play in contributing to BC’s economic progress. Elai Davicioni, the current President in Chief Scientific Officer at GenomeDx, retains close ties to academic medicine through an appointment at UBC’s Department of Pathology. In the last 18 months, GenomeDx has released into clinical trials a platform for the validation and delivery of lab tests for solid tumors. Based on their personal genetic profile, this biopsy/fixed sample test allows physicians to determine the relapse probability after administration of therapy for any cancer patient undergoing treatment. The process involves screening for specific genes in both protein coding and non-coding regions in whole genome RNA expression. The sequences from tumor tissues of 300-400 patients suffering from a specific cancer and their long term outcomes are analyzed. The use of primary samples and long term follow up data allows for the creation of a disease profile, and the statistically valid correlation of certain clinical outcomes, which help to accurately predict if a patient will respond to a treatment, or fall into relapse, given the patient’s own genetic profile.

The discussion that concluded the event was focused on the importance of communicating scientific research, conducted within academia and industry, to the general public. Immense emphasis was given to the need for scientists and researchers to communicate their discoveries with the general public through various media. By doing so, researchers are able to create the awareness of the impact of basic science in improving the quality of life of people. For instance, discussing the techniques and tools used in drug discovery efforts that lead to prevention and treatment of the diseases. And while scientists need to talk to reporters to get this information out to the public, there should be a uniform message delivered by collaborative bodies and industry associations, such as LifeSciences BC. Proper media coverage will attract the much-needed sponsors and investors for scientific research programs within academic and industry organizations in BC’s Life Sciences sector.

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