Genomics Laid the Foundation for Big Global Health Advances To Come This Decade

1/21/10

In science, success is often measured in small advances in understanding. But in the past decade, technology has led to large leaps of new knowledge that has been well utilized in the battle against global infectious disease.

And, this decade holds even greater promise.

Genomics is an excellent example. We’ve seen the genomics revolution begin in force, providing researchers with vast amounts of data that presented new possibilities. In October 2002, there was a landmark achievement in the world of infectious disease research: Nature published the complete genome sequence of Plasmodium falciparum, the main cause of human malaria. That was accompanied by the complete sequence of Plasmodium yoelii, the agent in rodent malaria. These simultaneously provide the malaria community with a foundation of knowledge for both a lethal human pathogen and its model animal pathogen. The sequencing and annotation of the malaria parasite genome was led by Malcolm Gardner, a malaria researcher who is now at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI).

Importantly, the knowledge gained by knowing the 5,000+ genes that make up P. falciparum has been exploited by malaria researchers around the world to develop new strategies to fight an age-old disease. During 2010, SBRI will move into human clinical trials with a promising malaria vaccine that would not have been possible without genomics. SBRI scientists have found that by removing specific essential genes from the malaria parasite genome the malaria infection is stopped while it is in the liver, before it migrates into the blood and causes disease. Most notably, this resulted in complete immune protection from subsequent infection in the mouse model system. Two genes have been removed from the human malaria parasite, P. falciparum to create the live genetically attenuated parasite vaccine that will be tested.

In addition to the genomics revolution, we’ve witnessed exponential growth in high-throughput analyses that assess the activities and functions of genes that were identified in genome projects. There’s also been advances in the field of informatics that provided the ability to store, integrate and evaluate the abundant data. This is accelerating the ability to translate these findings into applications.

This explosion of data over the past decade has led to new understanding and the realization that much more can be accomplished, especially if researchers worldwide collaborate … Next Page »

Ken Stuart is the founder of Seattle Biomedical Research Institute. His research is focused on unicellular parasites that are estimated to kill around a million people each year. Follow @

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