Mapping out the Future: Funding Boost for Canadian Genomics Initiatives

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Since the first successful sequencing of the human genome in 2003, technology has evolved to make DNA mapping faster and more cost-effective than ever. In the health care sector, genomics has paved the way for customized therapies for patients suffering from a range of illnesses including cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, neurological conditions, and cardiovascular disease. A more complete understanding of a patient’s genetic map means more effectively targeted drugs and a more efficient health care system.

Students currently enrolled in pharmaceutical courses will emerge into a marketplace where customizable drug therapies are a booming business. The power to examine the genomes of diseased cells and decipher aberrant genes is a game-changer for drug companies, who can tailor pharmaceuticals to target those specific problem areas.  For example, in 2011 a California based biotech startup used a sequencing machine to map the genomes of melanoma cells. They found a key mutation and identified the enzyme responsible for rapid cancer cell division. These discoveries resulted in the development of a drug specifically designed to target those enzymes.

From forestry and fishing, to agriculture and the environment, few sectors are untouched by new advances in genomics. Even students pursuing food safety certification will encounter new ways in which gene mapping has influenced developments in their field. In 2011, the US government paid $695,000 for a sequencer that would help scientists determine the sources of E. coli bacterial outbreaks across the country. In 2012, the Canadian government invested in a $600,000 project to map the genomes of Listeria – an advance that will facilitate quicker testing and identification of unsafe foods.

It is no surprise that Canada is eager to maintain a leading role in the international race to develop new genomics-based technologies. In March of 2013, the Canadian government announced funding for 17 new genetics-based clinical research and development projects. $45 million has been allocated to Genome Canada and $24 million will be administered through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The country’s top researchers will lead teams in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, and the Canadian government will support their efforts in a multi-year strategy totalling $165 million.

In what ways do you think genomics will impact our lives most in the years ahead?