UC San Francisco has launched the UCSF Center for Next-Gen Precision Medicine Diagnostics, a dedicated research center for exploring how genomic technology, a potentially transformative approach to critical care medicine, can be integrated into healthcare settings to diagnose life-threatening diseases.
The center will start by focusing on improving the diagnosis of encephalitis and meningitis, destructive and sometimes deadly conditions involving inflammation of the brain or its surrounding tissues. Often, no cause is identified for these severe and costly conditions, as explained by a UCSF press release
and reported in Drug Discovery & Development
As stated by principal investigator Joseph DeRisi, PhD, chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF, “Knowing the cause can significantly impact the course of clinical care. Therefore, the use of genomic technology in these situations is incredibly exciting. The results may have immediate and actionable consequences. There’s no question the technology works, but research at this center will help us find out how well it will compete with typical ‘send-out’ tests in terms of cost, scale and turnaround times. We will also push the technology to do more, in order to drive sensitivity up and cost down.”
Funding for the new center began with $2.4 million from the Sandler Foundation and the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation. Recently, it obtained a $1.2 million grant from the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine, a public-private effort spearheaded by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.
According to Herbert Sandler, president of the Sandler Foundation, “UCSF has all the components critical to success, including great vision, outstanding science and a collaborative culture that brings together exceptional basic scientists and clinical scientists. The new center will help advance medical research to a point where, with a single test, we can rapidly and accurately diagnose a whole array of life-threatening diseases that previously required putting patients through a range of burdensome, expensive, and speculative tests. The center will contribute to both better patient outcomes and lower healthcare costs.”
It is anticipated that the center will assemble an interdisciplinary team of scientists and clinicians, as well as a health economist, to develop and use genomic testing for patients suffering from encephalitis and meningitis. This testing is intended to “identify infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses, but many cases of meningitis and encephalitis are caused by an autoimmune response, so the center will also develop new technologies to better understand such cases,” the press release explained.
“Next-Gen” refers to next-generation sequencing, in which complete genomes can be decoded into individual genetic “letters.” The researchers at the center are developing and adapting their sequencing and bioinformatics platforms to answer questions for a wide range of both human and veterinary diseases.