NUI Galway launches new €13 million genomics data science centre

NUI Galway has officially launched a new SFI Centre for Research Training in Genomics Data Science at a conference this week. The NUI Galway-led centre has received €13 million in funding from Science Foundation Ireland to train 115 PhD students over the next seven years in the analysis of big genomic data sets, enabling them to take up future high-skills careers across the range of genomics applications.

The new centre is one of six Science Foundation Ireland centres for research training and is the first with a whole-island remit, including cross-border collaboration to maximise the benefits of genomics data science on the island of Ireland.

The conference was attended by president of NUI Galway, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, researchers from the new centre’s partner institutions, as well as the first cohort of PhD students providing the students with an opportunity to interact with world class researchers in this emerging field.

Genomics researchers from throughout the island of Ireland presented work on the applications of genomics data science in diverse areas such as cancer, rare diseases, gut health, and agrigenomics. Keynote speakers included Shamil Sunyaev, Harvard Medical School, US; Anton Nekrutenko, Penn State University, US; Eimear Kenny, Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, US; Remco Loos, Celgene Institute for Translational Research, Spain; and Orla Hardiman from TCD. There were also presentations showcasing genomics research at each of the institutions participating in the centre — NUI Galway, UCC, UCD, RCSI, QUB, and TCD.

DNA is the genetic material that we inherit from our parents. We inherit half of our DNA from our mother and half from our father, and this DNA contains the complete set of instructions to build a person. The DNA that codes the complete instructions to build an organism is called the genome of that organism. The human genome contains approximately three billion DNA base pairs that encode the information required to build the human body.

The size of a genome does not reflect the complexity of the organism that it makes. For example, the genome of an onion is about six times bigger than the human genome. This means that it is not just the size of the genome that is important, but also its structure and organisation and how the information that is there is used.

This new centre will train 115 graduates in this area and will enable developments in data analytics to be applied to big data generated using genomics technologies.

Professor Cathal Seoighe, director of the SFI Centre for Research Training in Genomics Data Science, NUI Galway, said: “We are delighted to welcome such a distinguished group of speakers to our launch conference and are very excited about this new centre. The enthusiasm shown by these experts and the many other partners and collaborators involved, both in Ireland and internationally, is a testament to the importance of this initiative.

“The Human Genome Project, established almost 30 years ago, involved many laboratories and required billions of dollars and over a decade of work to complete," he added. "Today, a human genome can be sequenced in a few days for less than a thousand dollars. This revolution, driven by new technologies, generates data on an enormous scale and promises to increase scientific understanding and drive innovation. But data on this scale carries many challenges. Highly trained data scientists with the skills to turn genomics data into useful insights are urgently needed.”

Genomics has impacts across a broad range of sectors, including human health, industrial biotechnology, food science, and agriculture. In health, genomics is already beginning to be used to diagnose rare genetic disorders. For example, around 30 per cent of children with early onset epilepsy can now receive a precision diagnosis through genomic sequencing. It can also predict the risk of common, complex disorders, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, in which lifestyle plays a role, raising the possibility of interventions targeted towards at-risk individuals. New cancer therapies now target specific genomic mutations found in cancer cells, particularly in the case of lung, colorectal, skin, breast, and some blood cancers. By sequencing the genome of the cancer cells, these treatments can be tailored to individual patients.

For more information about the Centre for Research Training in Genomics Data Science, see genomicsdatascience.ie

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