News Column

UCSC engineering lab awarded $2.28M grant

August 5, 2014

By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.



Aug. 05--SANTA CRUZ -- The National Human Genome Research Institute awarded a three-year $2.28 million grant to a UC Santa Cruz lab headed by Professor Mark Akeson for its research on low-cost genome sequencing.

Akeson's biomolecular engineering lab is one of eight recipients of the Advanced Sequencing Technology Award this year, a federally funded program which has granted more than $220 million in 10 years.

The program, now in its final year, set out to reduce the cost of genome sequencing from $10 million to $1,000 per patient in one decade. Genome sequencing, or determining an individual's genetic makeup, can allow doctors to diagnose diseases and tailor treatment plans.

Several companies now offer $1,000 sequencing, but quality needs to be improved before medical practices can effectively use the technology, said Jeffrey Schloss, director of genome sciences at the institute.

One way to address quality is with nanopore sequencing, which Akeson's lab studies, that uses tiny membrane holes the size of a single DNA strand and voltage readings to identify DNA sequences.

Compared to conventional sequencing methods that use lasers and microscopes, nanopore technology is not only less expensive and more portable, but also delivers more accuracy, since the membrane touches the DNA sequence directly, Schloss said.

Akeson's lab was awarded a $3.6 million grant in 2011 by the same program, for proof of concept of nanopore sequencing.

Now that his lab has shown that enzymes could sense DNA sequences traveling through a membrane pore, Akeson said his research is now directed toward improving accuracy using repeated readings. He is also studying how to use nanopores to understand epigenetics, or how DNA is modified after replication, a process that determines the cell's fate.

A possible outcome, said Akeson, is a highly accurate, pocket-sized device that could read DNA sequences in hospitals or even groceries and restaurants.

"It could be in all sorts of locations where you'd want to know if a bacterium is present, or if an individual has a certain point mutation in their DNA, or DNA in their bloodstream from a cancer and you'd like to know that at the point of care," Akeson said.

Akeson said he's grateful to the taxpayers for their support and works hard to give back. Collaborating with fellow UCSC genome researchers David Haussler, Jim Kent and Ted Goldstein, Akeson said he hopes to combine accurate low-cost DNA sequencing technology with the best-available biocomputational tools.

"Our group is very excited about using this technology as part of the genome institute that's being forged, and in my opinion this is one of the great new ventures of UC Santa Cruz," he said.

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(c)2014 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)

Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com

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Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)


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