NEW YORK—The Human Vaccines Project, a nonprofit public-private partnership aiming to decode the immune system to aid in developing vaccines and immunotherapies against major infectious diseases and cancers, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have linked up with Illumina Inc. in an effort to decode the human immunome. Though no specifics were released, Illumina will be responsible for providing genetic-sequencing technologies and its expertise in processing massive amounts of data.
The immunome refers to the genes and proteins that comprise the immune system. While answers on the human genome have been revealed through initiatives such as The Human Genome Project, current estimates are that the immunome is some billions of times larger and more complex.
“We are very pleased to collaborate with the Human Vaccines Project, Vanderbilt and its partners, by bringing Illumina’s state-of-the-art genetic sequencing and bioinformatics technologies to help solve this major challenge,” said Dr. Gary Schroth, Illumina's vice president of Product Development. “Successfully defining the human immunome will provide foundational knowledge and has the potential to usher in a new era of vaccine, diagnostic and therapeutic development.”
Industry members of the Human Vaccines Project include Medimmune, Janssen, Aeras, Regeneron, Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim and Moderna, the last of which joined just this January. One of the Human Vaccines Project's main efforts is the Human Immunome Project, an internationally led initiative by VUMC with a goal of identifying how the immune system prevents and controls disease by tracing the immunome.
The Human Immunome Project began its work last June, when VUMC researchers and the Human Vaccines Project started recruiting participants for a clinical trial to unravel the immunome. The first step of the pilot study consisted of two healthy individuals undergoing leukapheresis, or a blood donation in which circulating white blood cells are filtered out and removed, with red blood cells returned to the donor. Following genetic sequencing of all receptors on the white blood cells—specifically B and T immune cells—the study will be expanded to include roughly 100 subjects, and then 1,000. Dr. James Crowe Jr., director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center and lead investigator of the Human Immunome Program, noted in a press release at the time that the number of sequences acquired from the participants could number in the billions. The resulting data will be offered as an open-sourced database for the global research community.
“By decoding the human immune system, we have the potential to uncover novel diagnostic biomarkers for a wide range of diseases,” said Crowe of the recent team-up with Illumina. “This will enable the development of highly targeted vaccines and immunotherapies against infectious and non-communicable diseases like AIDS, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and cancer.”
“Sequencing the human immunome is the next frontier of genetic medicine. This important collaboration with the Human Vaccines Project and Illumina marks an exciting step in Vanderbilt’s distinguished history and leadership in vaccine research and personalized medicine. Insights about the genetic underpinnings of the human immune system gained from this study will help guide future generations of biomarker and therapeutic development,” Dr. Jeff Balser, president and CEO of VUMC and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, commented in a statement.
This sequencing undertaking is also supported by the Human Vaccines Project Bioinformatics and Data Management Core, located at the J. Craig Venter Institute and the San Diego Super Computer Center at the University of California, San Diego. The Core will aid in analyzing the generated immunome data.