Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Genomics Revolution: Impact on Public Health and Medicine

In an exciting one-day event last month, SPHPM and ASPREE staff were treated to a broad overview of the rapidly evolving field of genomics by head of the new Public Health Genomics program, Paul Lacaze and his guest speakers.

Paul has come on board to spearhead the genomic aspects of the Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) study and how the genomic resources of the ASPREE Biobank can be developed to aid the prediction of illness onset in older people.

Professor John McNeil and Paul Lacaze kicked off the lectures by introducing current plans to begin whole genome sequencing many thousands of samples from participants in the ASPREE study.

With this exciting announcement the School officially becomes part of the genomic revolution, and it is hoped that with new and unique data resources at its disposal and opportunities for future collaboration, that it will positively impact personalised medicine and other areas.

“The event was a big success with very positive feedback. Genomics is an exciting and rapidly developing field and currently SPHPM has many opportunities in genomics, especially related to the ASRPEE biobank. We hope this event will be the first of many to come in the future to help integrate genomics into SPHPM,” Lacaze said.

The introduction was followed by a series of guest speakers including Dr Michael Inouye Deputy Director of the genomics program at Melbourne University, Dr Andrew Stone from the Garvan Institute, Professor Anton Peleg Director of Infectious Diseases at the Alfred, Dr Joanna Ryan from ASPREE, Les Sheffield a geneticist from the Victorian Clinical Genetics Services (VCGS) and Dr Steve Turner Co-founder of Pacific Biosciences of California.

Paul is excited that the School is moving into these new areas bringing together genomics, public health and whole genome sequencing and he hopes that the Public Health Genomics Program will broaden the scope of ASPREE and other studies by the addition of genomic and molecular data.

Paul described whole genome sequencing technology to those attending the lecture series with a metaphor. Where a single sentence in a book is a gene, and a chapter in that book is a chromosome- the book is the whole genome and whole genome sequencing gives researchers the ability to read all the words in the book.

This is crucial work because the better methods we have of predicting who will develop a particular illness the better we can target preventive efforts.

“In addition to the potential for developing better predictive models for disease prevention, one other key aspect of ASPREE is the opportunity to find people who might be expected to develop a disease based on their genes but don’t, and discover whether they have some resistance or resilience to a disease and find out why,” Lacaze said.

“This is an alternative to traditional disease-focused approaches, but I think it holds great promise”.

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