May 7, 2020

Researchers develop new technology to advance surveillance and treatment of infectious diseases

Multiple provincial partners invest in genome research projects

Researchers at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) are developing technology to improve genome data analysis, with the ultimate goal of improving surveillance and treatment of infectious diseases like M. tuberculosis, E.coli and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Academic scientists in the province currently use high-throughput sequencing (HTS) to gather vast amounts of genomic data from people, animals and plants. For public health, the data can be used to enhance bacteria and virus outbreak surveillance, patient treatment plans and infection prevention programs in hospitals.

With support from Genome Alberta and partners, Dr. Tarah Lynch, PhD, and her team are developing a platform to better organize, analyze and share HTS data across the province. The project also aims to improve the integration of clinical and research data to provide more informative results that are easier to interpret.

Dr. Tarah Lynch

Tarah Lynch and her team received funding from Genome Alberta and partners to develop a platform to better organize, analyze and share HTS data across the province.

Courtesy Tarah Lynch

“There is a lot of positive momentum within genome and bioinformatic research in Alberta right now,” says Lynch.

“This important investment will help advance the use of HTS technologies in the province by developing much-needed infrastructure to organize, analyze and access HTS results in a meaningful way. We hope this foundational work will also be useful to other genomic applications,” she adds.

The technology will be built and tested on servers hosted by UCalgary and is expected to be eventually used by microbiologists and clinicians at Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL).

Genome Alberta partnered with Genome Canada, Alberta Innovates, and the Government of Alberta for the Enabling Bioinformatic Solutions (EBS) program, funding five projects for more than $1 million. 

The other UCalgary projects receiving funding include:

Dr. Jason de Koning, PhD – to develop customizable software designed to improve the diagnosis and treatment of rare genetic diseases.

Dr. Quan Long, PhD – to develop tools to enhance genome sequencing, particularly to better understand HIV. The new tools will also be used to study other viral evolution, epidemiology and pathogenesis questions.

Dr. Tarah Lynch, PhD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the CSM and Ecosystems and Public Health in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She is a bioinformatician with Alberta Precision Laboratories and member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases.

Dr. Jason de Koning, PhD, is an assistant professor in the departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Medical Genetics, and a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the CSM.

Dr. Quan Long, PhD, is an assistant professor in the departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Medical Genetics and a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the CSM.