A matter of expression

Covance, Broad Institute to collaborate on sequencing genome studies

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PRINCETON, N.J.—Covance Inc. announced in August that its Seattle-based genomics laboratory will collaborate with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to create genomic resources for a research model.

Under the agreement, Covance's next-generation sequencing (NGS) capabilities will be used to profile microRNA expression in various tissue samples from the developed model. The genomic and messenger RNA sequencing at the Broad Institute is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

According to Dr. Tom Turi, vice president of science and technology for Covance Discovery and Translational Services, the Broad Institute proved to be a perfect fit for the collaboration because of its NGS and computational biology technologies. 

"This is a unique opportunity to collaborate with one of the world's leading experts in the application of these technologies to understand this important disease model," Turi says.

The research model has proven to be valuable for understanding various human diseases (respiratory, oncology, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal) and systems (reproduction, endocrinology and neuroscience). The microRNA sequencing data and its analysis will be made available to the entire research community to further develop essential comparative and functional genomic tools.

"Our shared hope is that parallel characterization of microRNA expression will contribute to our understanding of the underlying transcriptional regulatory networks," Turi adds. "These studies will rapidly expand our current knowledge of this area, laying the groundwork for in-depth investigation of biomedically relevant disease processes."

According to Turi, Covance is providing expertise in NGS to explore microRNAs within the model organism. 

"The data will be combined with data from the Broad and other publicly available data to better understand genetic regulatory mechanisms in specific cell types that may modulate the immune system during viral illnesses," he explains. "Our part of the collaboration is to identify the microRNAs present within this model organism and understand how they may contribute to genetic regulation."

Turi points out that presently, only a small fraction of the human genome is currently amenable for therapeutic intervention. 

"By studying this model organism, we expect to better understand how modulation of regulatory networks affects disease and identify potential new candidates' points of intervention," he says. "This knowledge will bolster efforts to develop effective vaccines, rapid diagnostics and new kinds of therapeutics."

Moreover, Turi notes that Covance's gene sequencing will complement ongoing efforts at the Broad Institute.

"We will bring additional speed and capacity to the process," he says. "The Covance genomics laboratory has optimized techniques to sequence microRNAs. By completing sequencing efforts through this model organism more rapidly and more efficiently, important data will get important data to the academic community more quickly."

Dr. John Engelhardt, a professor at the University of Iowa and an expert in genomic sequencing research, says the collaboration will significantly expand the domestic specimen's genomics toolbox and thus the ability of this model to dissect disease processes and develop therapies for a wide range of human illnesses.

"Coupled with the recent development of technologies to genetically engineer models, completion of the 'omics databases will revolutionize molecular medicine research with this species," Engelhardt says.
Dr. Federica Di Palma, the group leader of the Vertebrate Genome Biology group at the Broad Institute, notes that Covance's contribution to the ongoing genome project "will be a tremendous benefit to the scientific community focused on this model."

"Their microRNA sequencing will significantly inform gene expression and regulation in this important model organism and accelerate the development of new tools for genomic research and their application to drug development and therapeutics," says Di Palma.

Success of the collaboration, according to Turi, will be gauged "in how quickly we can generate the data and get the information in the hands of the public domain scientists, who will work with it to develop therapies, understand the disease and apply more effective treatment."

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