Childhood asthma, personalized cancer treatment research get boost at UBC Science

Childhood asthma and cancer treatment research have received a funding boost at UBC. Photo: istockphoto.

Ten projects being led by UBC researchers have been awarded $101 million from Genome Canada and Genome BC, in collaboration with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, provincial governments and project co-funders.

Two projects involving UBC Science researchers—focused on childhood asthma and personalized treatments for cancer—received funding through the Large Scale Applied Research (LSARP) and the Genomics Technology Platforms (GTP) competitions.

The LSARP program is dedicated to bringing precision health research to the clinic where it will improve outcomes for Canadian patients. A total of 15 projects were funded nationally. The GTP funding funding will enable the platforms to develop new and improved genomics technologies, and provide researchers across Canada and internationally with access to leading-edge genomics tools, technologies and services, which improve the quality of research.

The Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study

Project leaders: Stuart Turvey, Michael Kobor, Brett Finlay (University of British Columbia), Padmaja Subbarao (The Hospital for Sick Children)

Genome Centres: Genome British Columbia (administrative lead), Ontario Genomics

Total funding: $9.1 million

Asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting one in seven Canadian children (and more than three million Canadians of all ages). It is the most common reason for children to be admitted to hospital and for them to miss school. It is also expensive, costing more than $2 billion per year in Canada. Treatments can manage symptoms, but there is no cure, only the slight hope that children will “grow out of it.”

Stuart Turvey, his team at the University of British Columbia and the CHILD study team are focusing on early diagnosis and prevention, two factors that can reduce the personal and economic toll of asthma. Their sample of choice comes from dirty diapers: by using powerful genomics technologies to analyze stools, they may be able to predict which infants will go on to develop asthma. The reason? Evidence has shown that babies who go on to develop asthma tend to be missing key microbes in their intestines (the microbiome, as it is known) in the first few months of life. Beyond predicting who may develop asthma, thus enabling early diagnosis, the research will guide the ethical development of ways to replace these microbes, to prevent asthma from developing at all.

BC Cancer Agency Genome Sciences Centre Genomics Technology Platform

Platform leaders: Marco Marra, Steven Jones (BC Cancer Agency) Corey Nislow, Martin Hirst (University of British Columbia)

Genome Centre: Genome British Columbia

Total funding: $9.6 million

The sequencing and bioinformatics analysis platforms at Canada’s Michael Smith Genomic Sciences Centre have operated as a Genome Canada platform since 2001. In that time, its technical ability to deliver successful collaborations and service arrangements has led to its involvement in 705 grants and contracts totaling more than $875 million, and supporting the work of more than 1,500 researchers, both nationally and internationally. Among its contributions are reference genomes for bovine, spruce, poplar, Atlantic salmon and Chardonnay grape; human reference epigenomes; and human, mouse and zebrafish cDNA reference transcriptomes. Its whole-genome analysis is being used to inform personalized treatment planning for cancer patients. The platform also provides training to technical and support staff, as well as graduate and postdoctoral research trainees.

With this Genome Canada funding, the platform will expand both its personnel and its service offerings, including both new technology development and assessment and data processing and bioinformatics analysis. It will also develop a bioinformatics virtual machine to provide researchers with the computational tools they need to interact with, visualize and analyze data. This funding will also enable the GSC to grow its capacity for genomics services through the collaborative partnership with University of British Columbia.