COLLEGE OF MEDICINE AND HEALTH
Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health Professions

If working at maximum capacity, the new machine could sequence up to 300 human genomes per week

£1.25 million boost puts Exeter at cutting-edge of genomics

A new, state-of-the-art genome sequencing platform will put Exeter on the cutting edge of research into the genomic basis of health and disease.

The Illumina NovaSeq sequencer has just been installed at the University of Exeter, part-funded by over £600,000 from the Wellcome Trust. The investment represents a significant upgrade to Exeter’s ability to sequence whole genomes faster and in much greater depth than before.

The award has also enabled Exeter to invest in technology for profiling the way genes are expressed – or “switched on” - in individual cells. It will enable researchers to explore the molecular pathology of disease in complex tissues such as the brain.

The new equipment is a significant boost to Exeter’s research capabilities in efforts to find underlying causes and new treatments in key disease areas, including diabetes, obesity, dementia and schizophrenia as well as providing a hugely flexible platform for all genomics-inspired biology and medicine.

Professor Jonathan Mill, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the bid said: “This new equipment provides biomedical researchers in Exeter with amazing new opportunities for genomic research and puts us at the forefront of the field. We will be able to sequence entire genomes quickly and efficiently. I’m particularly excited about the opportunity to assess gene expression in individual cells in conditions like schizophrenia and dementia.”

If working at maximum capacity, the new machine could sequence up to 300 human genomes per week, dramatically increasing the ability to identify genetic variants associated with health and disease.

The latest investment is in addition to a new machine funded with £30,000 from Alzheimer’s Research UK, which will be used to measure key epigenetic changes in dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

The new equipment will be operated by the University of Exeter Sequencing Service, headed by Dr Aaron Jeffries. He said: “The Illumina NovaSeq adds to the repertoire of cutting-edge genomics facilities in Exeter. We are now one of the best-equipped centres for genetics research in the UK, with state-of-the-art sequencing technology, robotics and high-performance computing. ”

Professor Neil Gow, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Impact) at the University of Exeter, said: “these combined investments are incredibly exciting for Exeter as they vastly expand our genomic inspired research capabilities. We’re also really looking forward to the Mireille Gillings Neuroimaging Centre coming launching in the new year, that will mean we can generate images of the body’s organs in far greater detail. These new and exciting technology platforms will accelerate both fundamental and applied research in key areas of human disease and eventually to the delivery of life-enhancing benefits for patients.”

Date: 9 December 2019

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