sequencing

Scientists vs Trump: January 2017 with Nathan and Laura

As we look back at January’s headlines with our two regular commentators, Nathan and Laura, the question becomes: How much should we ignore the fire raging across America to focus on the science?

Speaking of Trump's new immigration order and the very real threat of a "brain drain," Nathan tells of his own personal time doing research in Iran, commending scientists there and the many Iranian scientists here. But he says Iran has already announced they're going to retaliate.

“We might think more about field work scientists who will be worried about retaliation, about being a target of anti-American violence in the field,” says Nathan. "This gets real for people.”

Laura says “the United States has always been the place to come. If we don’t choose to be that place, someone else will. Someone else will be the leader of the scientific world which has been as important to the development of this nation as being leader of the free world.”

We do get to some science, the first human-pig chimera.

And to some cool new sequencing tools. Or just how cool are they? Illumina announced a new line of instruments this month, but what they didn’t say might be the loudest announcement of all. They didn’t mention anything about nanopore sequencing.

We’re Over Halfway There: Baylor's Richard Gibbs on Clinical Genetics

There’s a basic assumption in our field today that has been around for some time. We think of medicine as on a direct and even continuum with science. That discoveries in genomics, for example, will lead directly to breakthroughs in medicine. But the breakthroughs on the medical side have been much more rare to date than those coming from the study of biology and genomics.

Richard Gibbs is the Founder of the renowned Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine. He and his team were one of five worldwide sites contributing to the Human Genome Project (HGP). In today’s interview we find out what the sequencing pioneer has been up to since the days of the HGP and what his take is for how well genetic science is translating into clinical care.

In fact, Richard is willing to put a number on how far we’ve come.

“There’s a trajectory that began just about the time the Human Genome Project was being conceived through to this futuristic image of medical genomics where complete genomes are actually part of medical care,” he says. "That journey is not yet complete. We are somewhere between 50 and 90% there.”

Richard says that the HGP was actually a departure from what was typical in the field of human genetics. That it was a science project done more purely for the sake of science. Most of the history of human genetics research has been practical medical or clinical projects.

One of the areas where Richard’s team has made a big impact is in collaboration with the NHGRI's Center for Mendelian Diseases. The team is also participating heavily with the NIH’s Undiagnosed Disease Network. What is the difference between a Mendelian and a rare disease? What are the center’s solve rates for each of those areas?

We round out the discussion with a look at how Richard and his team get the 'best quality genomes' for their projects, an issue of utmost importance in the clinic.

Luke Timmerman on His New Biography of Lee Hood

There is tons of life science journalism. Our coffee tables and inboxes fill up each week with that quarterly or that daily. We sift through headlines and product advertisements to assess what’s going on in our industry. It’s our job to know. In this age of several-times-per-day newsletters and 24 hrs a day Twitter, we catch what we can.

And occasionally, we come across a carefully written piece or a well done interview, and we take a moment to realize with some awe the history that is being made in our industry.

Occasionally. Which is why a new book out by veteran biotech journalist and the guest of today’s show, Luke Timmerman, is such a rare treat.

Hood is a thrilling ride through the life of the visionary biologist, Lee Hood, told by someone who is not afraid to show the shiny and the not so shiny. From his boyhood in Montana to being chair of the biology department at Caltech where he oversaw the invention of the automated DNA sequencer, to being recruited to Seattle by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Hood’s journey becomes the perfect vehicle for Timmerman to probe into the messy corners of science and put an intimate, human face on the history of biotech. Covering Hood’s move to the University of Washington as a young Seattle based reporter, Timmerman has known Lee Hood for several years. It's a full scale biography, efficiently and confidently written with an insider's perspective and access. Timmerman says it's an “unofficial biography,” meaning Hood was supportive of the project, but Timmerman had full freedom.

Playing historian has been somewhat of a fantasy for the long time journalist.

"There are things that are happening in the moment which a journalist can call people on, but you don’t really get the whole story. There’s only so much people can say and there are not a whole lot of documents that come available when you’re on deadline. But when you’re a biographer, and you have the luxury of time, and people have moved on, things become a lot less sensitive. People become more willing to talk, and a whole lot of documents become available through the public record.”

Who is this man, Lee Hood, and how has he impacted our industry? In the book, we read of the time when Hood holds a press conference to announce his team has done it—they’ve got an automated DNA sequencer. But, standing at perhaps the pinnacle of his career, Hood forgets to mention the "team" part. It’s a flaw that will go on to haunt what by any measure has been a remarkably successful career.

What impact has the subject made on the author? And what does Timmerman hope for the book?

To round out the interview, we get Timmerman’s thoughts on his new gig, the Timmerman Report, and the recent Sarepta decision by the FDA.

Erica Ramos on Her Pioneering Role as Genetic Counselor for Industry

For the next installment of our series on genetic counseling, we’re joined by Erica Ramos. She’s the president-elect of the National Society of Genetic Counselors and was the second genetic counselor hired at Illumina where she’s been for four years. Illumina now has 15 genetic counselors.

Erica has been a trail blazer throughout her career. Before joining Illumina, she was the first ‘cancer counselor’ in the city of Las Vegas, Nevada. Her time at Illumina has been a prime example of the evolving role of the industry counselor.

“Genetic Counselors are starting to be recognized more and more as experts in bridging gaps between physicians and researchers, patients and physicians, and now even companies and their customers,” she says at the outset of today’s interview.

When asked about the tension between the commercial pressure from her company to sell tests and the actual needs of the patients, Erica says Illumina wants to sell the right tests and she quotes Illumina’s new CEO, Francis de Souza: “sometimes you need to go slow before you can go fast.” Erica says that it’s good for business to engage the genetic counselor early on in product development so that the right product is chosen.

We finish the interview with a preview of the upcoming National Society for Genetic Counselor's annual education conference, Sept 28 to Oct 1 in Seattle, Washington.

A Maniacal Commitment to Science: Peering into Regeneron’s Genetics Center with Jeff Reid

Today we feature a pharma company that has been around for some time but recently getting more media coverage for the impressive scale of their new genetic center. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, insiders joke, has been an overnight success that took 25 years.

One might think every big pharma company has their own genetic center for internal R & D. But today’s guest, Jeff Reid, Executive Director of Genome Informatics at the Regeneron Genetic Center (RGC), says that actually deep genetic research is often outsourced.

In just two years, the RGC has built an impressive sequencing lab and announced large partnerships with healthcare systems and academic centers that rival major government projects. One such collaboration with Geisinger Health System involves the sequencing of 100,000 genomes. Already, the RGC has sequenced over 100,000 exomes and has plans to sequence 500,000.

“What we’re doing is quite different,” says Jeff. "We are envisioned as a large scale academic genome center embedded in a pharma company."

Jeff says the strategy is to not only go wide with studies of large numbers of patients for the purpose of finding very rare variants, but to go deep as well. Big numbers can be distracting, he points out, saying that some times they get more insight off a small project, such as the treatment of children with a rare genetic disease.

“There are strategies all across the spectrum of project size,” he says.

Set up in an age when compute and data storage are no longer an issue, the RGC has become the first large scale genetic center to be entirely in the cloud. What is the major informatics challenge for Jeff and the center? And what does having such a large scale genome center mean about Regeneron and where we are today with genomic medicine?

Genomics Is Oversubscribed, Says Creator of BLAST

One of the original Celera team that worked on the Human Genome Project, Gene Myers is now setting up the new Center for Systems Biology at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics.

However, unlike many others such centers, the main focus of this institute will not be genomics. Rather Myers is going for microscopy.

“Genomics is only about 20% of it,” he says in today’s interview from his office in Dresden, Germany

Myers feels that genomics is overcrowded. He wants to look at the “rest of the stuff” which he finds to be “the most important." Seeing that human genomics was more a matter of scaling after the Humah Genome Project, Myers scientific curiosity led him into microscopy where he seeks to take images of transgenic constructs in the cell and build computer models of basic biology.

"Now that we have reference quality genomes of a number of model organisms, we can do transgenics at scale,” says Myers. "We can take any protein or any promoter and see where it’s being expressed in the cell, and in which cells. And that ability--to basically watch any given protein of interest--has been a huge accelerant to the discovery of biological phenomenon."

With much improved imaging—from better, cheaper cameras to the availability of digital storage—Myers envisions that microscopy will be the breakthrough new platform for biological discovery, similar to what sequencing has been.

“It’s my belief, that if I can build that platform, that people will come and look at transgenic constructs over and over again until we have a very complete atlas of what’s going on in the cells at each point in time,” he says.

What is the biggest challenge to developing such a platform? Myers says the key will be adaptive optics, imaging technology that can adapt for the limitations and aberration of light in the cell.

With 10K Genomes Sequenced, Genomics England in High Gear: Clare Turnbull, Clinical Lead

We’ve heard on the program over the past few years that genomic medicine will probably take off first in a country with a centralized health service. And when the U.K. announced their 100K Genomes Project at the end of 2012 with the creation of Genomics England in 2013, it was certainly a bold visionary move to do just that—to put the entire country on a progressive path toward precision medicine for all.

So with 10K genomes sequenced, how is the project going?

“We’re still early days in the program in delivering it,” says today’s guest, Clare Turnbull, Clinical Lead for the Cancer Program. "Because the National Health Service in England is a single health care provider, it is possible to leverage carrots and sticks to make sure things happen. This gives us a lot more opportunity to effect change than in a more disparate service such as in the U.S.”

What are those carrots and sticks? What new paradigm shifts must take place, and what are the biggest challenges?

Beginning with rare diseases and cancer in this first project, the overall goal, Clare says, is to bring next generation sequencing technologies "full scale in their entirety into our healthcare service, and build all the structures that are necessary to use these types of tests--in particular, whole genomes--as routine investigations in every patient in every hospital within our service.”

Clare says she is a fan of Mendelspod because we provide "a very American perspective" on the same challenges and opportunities.

How Good are Linked Reads? Serge Saxonov, 10X Genomics

When 10X Genomics launched their GemCode sequencing instrument at last year’s AGBT conference, what they offered seemed too good to be true. 10X was promising researchers a machine that could generate long reads using Illumina’s short read technology at a price lower than what PacBio could offer with their “real” long read instruments. A year earlier, Illumina had announced they were buying Moleculo, a company that promised to offer long read data out of the short reads. But good data with the Moleculo platform failed to materialize.

10X Genomics hasn’t had that problem of Moleculo, and was in fact declared the “winner” at AGBT this year when they presented de novo human data.

Today, for the first time, the CEO of 10X, Serge Saxonov, joins us to talk about their technology and the company’s stellar rise.

The question everyone wants answered from Serge is how well the 10X linked reads stand up to so called “real” long reads. PacBio has spent years co-discovering with their customers applications where their long reads provide significant advantage over short reads, at a price. And even though PacBio released a cheaper-faster-better machine, the Sequel, late last year, some researchers have been wondering whether 10X might come through and "clean house" with their inexpensive system?

“Now you can get the information that people were hoping to access in maybe five or ten years--you can get it now. And in fact you don’t need to make a tremendous new investment and change your workflow radically,” says Serge.

While 10X is enabling Illumina customers to generate long reads, are there still limitations of the short read machines that can’t be overcome?

Serge and 10X have already launched a second system, the Chromium, which offers single cell analysis. How big is the single cell market, and what are Serge’s thoughts on the future of sequencing?

A Home Run on the First Hit: PacBio’s Jonas Korlach

Jonas Korlach is a natural storyteller—a rare trait in a scientist who is more comfortable presenting data than talking of himself. Jonas is the co-inventor of PacBio’s SMRT (single molecule, real time) sequencing, and we wanted to hear from him directly how it all got started, and also when the team realized that they had something big with long reads and close to 100X coverage. How many of us can boast of hitting it out of the park on our first try?

BioNano Genomics Stakes Out Sequencing Territory as They Discover Lots of De Novo Variants in Reference Genome Projects

If you attended or followed the recent AGBT conference about all things sequencing, you probably saw a few BioNano Genomics t-shirts with the slogan, “Back to the Map.” They’re referring of course, to a genome map. Just like Google Maps, a genome map consists of landmarks that tell scientists where on the genome they are. But unlike Google Maps and more like the maps North America that were made by European explorers in the 17th century, the map of the human genome is quite incomplete, the map of a frontier.

Erik Holmlin is the CEO of BioNano Genomics which offers unique genome mapping technology. In today’s interview, Erik points out that content is not the only king, context is pretty important as well.

“You can go back and look at some of the early discussions that were happening around the beginning of the Human Genome Project. And in fact a lot of the leading scientists of the time, Maynard Olson, Bob Moyzis, and others, emphasized that as we’re doing this sequencing it’s going to be very important that we put the sequence in context of the physical organization of the genome. Otherwise we’re never going to understand it,” Holmlin says.

After the market has become dominated by “short read” sequencing with the race to the $1,000 genome—a drive many say has been steered by the NHGRI—BioNano is now cutting out some territory for their genome mapping technology. Their flagship projects have no doubt been their work on the reference genomes. Erik says that in a recent trio sequencing project of genomes of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, they were able to find “a lot of de novo variants,” or variants which had not been found with other sequencing technologies.

Though Erik has always had his eye on the clinic—in fact, he came to the tools space from the clinical diagnostics industry because he felt passionately that we needed better tools to develop clinically actionable genomic data—he admits at the end of today’s show that his time at BioNano has pulled him more into basic research.

“In some respects I underestimated the need for more basic research,” he says. “And what really needs to happen is we need to get the translational research efforts to focus on the structural picture much more because that’s going to break through and lead to many clinically significant discoveries.”




New to Mendelspod?

We advance life science research, connecting people and ideas.
Register here to receive our newsletter.

or skip signup