The Big Challenges We Face in Genomics Today: A European Perspective

Recently I’ve travelled to Oxford in UK, Athens in Greece and Antalya in Turkey for a series of roundtables on the subject of genomics. While there were different audiences across the three events, the themes discussed had a lot in common and I’d like to share some of these with you in this blog.

The event in Oxford, GenofutureUK15, was a roundtable hosted by the Life Sciences team here at Intel and bought academics from a range of European research institutions together to discuss the future of genomics. I’m happy to say that the future is looking very bright indeed as we heard of many examples of some fantastic research currently being undertaken.

Speeding up Sequencing

What really resonated through all of the events though was that the technical challenges we’re facing in genomics are not insurmountable. On the contrary, we’re making great progress when it comes to the decreasing time taken to sequence genomes. As just one example, I’d highly recommend looking at this example from our partners at Dell – using Intel® Xeon® processers it has been possible to improve the efficiency and speed of paediatric cancer treatments.

In contrast to the technical aspects of genomics, the real challenges seem to be coming from what we call ‘bench to bedside’, i.e. how does the research translate to the patient? Mainstreaming issues around information governance, jurisdiction, intellectual property, data federation and workflow were all identified as key areas which are currently challenging process and progress.

From Bench to Bedside

As somebody who spends a portion of my time each week working in a GP surgery, I want to be able to utilise some of the fantastic research outcomes to help deliver better healthcare to my patients. We need to move on from focusing on pockets of research and identify the low-hanging fruit to help us tackle chronic conditions, and we need to do this quickly.

Views were put forward around the implications of genomics transition from research to clinical use and much of this was around data storage and governance. There are clear privacy and security issues but ones for which technology already has many of the solutions.

Training of frontline staff to be able to understand and make use of the advances in genomics was a big talking point. It was pleasing to hear that clinicians in Germany would like more time to work with researchers and that this was something being actively addressed. The UK and France are also making strides to ensure that this training becomes embedded in the education of future hospital staff.

Microbiomics

Finally, the burgeoning area of microbiomics came to the fore at the three events. You may have spotted quite a lot of coverage in the news around faecal microbiota transplantation to help treat Clostridium difficile. Microbiomics throws up another considerable challenge as the collective genomes of the human microbiota contains some 8 million protein-coding genes, 360 times as many as in the human genome. That’s a ‘very’ Big Data challenge, but one we are looking forward to meeting head-on at Intel.

Leave your thoughts below on where you think the big challenges are around genomics. How is technology helping you to overcome the challenges you face in your research? And what do you need looking to the future to help you perform ground-breaking research?

Thanks to participants, contributors and organisers at Intel’s GenoFutureUK15 in Oxford, UK, Athens in Greece and HIMSS Turkey Educational Conference, in Antalya, Turkey.