I have to admit, coming up with the 9th edition of DNA Genotek's "Top 10 list" was much more difficult than I imagined it would be. There are so many great things that happened in the past year - in our company, with our customers, and in the fields of genetics, microbiome and infectious disease - but I think I've narrowed it down to those that are most significant. The list is by no means comprehensive, but these are the 10 things I'll remember most from 2017.
1. Multi-omic approaches to human disease. In 2017, we saw emerging discoveries from multi-omic approaches to human disease and disorder including the role of mRNA and miRNA expression. There was significant media coverage of a research study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on mRNA and microRNA as a predictor to concussion symptoms. We will definitely be watching to see the progress of projects like this.
2. Human microbiome research gaining momentum. The human microbiome is one of the hottest topics of interest in the scientific community. In particular, the gastrointestinal microbiome has captured the attention of researchers. While gut microbiome studies have been published for several years, in 2017, we saw the emergence of the first studies focused on methods for collecting stool samples for large, population-based studies. One publication in particular, titled ‘Successful collection of stool samples for microbiome analyses from a large community-based population of elderly men’, took an in-depth look at the collection of stool samples from a large number of older men enrolled in the Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Study (MrOS) using OMNIgene·GUT. We hope to see other large microbiome studies emerging in 2018.
3. Personalized medicine at whole new level. Personalized medicine has been on every DNA Genotek top 10 list since we started publishing them in 2009. 2017 is no different with personalized medicine showing continued momentum in empowering individuals with health related data and pushing the boundaries for prevention, diagnosis and treatment for human disease. One example of such innovative approaches to personalized medicine is a company in Brazil that uses genomics, gene editing, stem cells and cloud computing technologies to create and study laboratory developed ‘mini brains’ capable of reflecting donors’ unique genetic profiles.This was one of the most fascinating projects I read about in 2017 as it highlights a new level of understanding of the future and potential of genomic information.
4. Microbiome in the clinic. In 2017, developments for clinical applications in the microbiome space gained momentum. One highlight was a presentation at Digestive Disease Week by Dr. John Kokai-Kun of Synthetic Biologics, Inc. in which he presented data from the successful Phase 2b clinical research trial of ribaxamase, an orally administered β-lactamase designed to protect the gut microbiome from the deleterious effects of IV administered β-lactam antibiotics, which met its primary endpoint of significantly reducing primary Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infection(CDI). I encourage you to check out this project to learn more about effective sample collection, stabilization and processing.
5. Sample collection delivered direct to study participants. In the past year or so, customers using our genomics and microbiome collection products were looking for a solution to allow them to deliver kits directly to their study participants. Leveraging our shipping and logistics expertise and our customization services for both collection kits and packaging, enables customers to focus on their projects without having to worry about supply chain logistics.
6. Finding the ‘missing 4 million’ in TB diagnosis. We also saw progress in the infectious disease area in 2017. This past year, the World Health Organization released its Technical Expert Group Meeting Report on commercial products for preserving clinical specimens for the diagnosis of tuberculosis. The report supports the procurement of OMNIgene·SPUTUM for operational research. Our goal in launching OMNIgene•SPUTUM is to ease the process of collecting, transporting and processing sputum samples; so, together, we can find the ‘missing 4 million’ people who aren’t getting tested for tuberculosis (TB). This ambient-temperature sputum transport reagent has the power to expand patient access to testing, and to help ensure accurate and timely test results by maintaining sample integrity while improving lab efficiency.
7. Whole genome sequencing – ready for the clinic? In 2017, whole genome sequencing (WGS) became even more affordable. The benefits of sequencing are becoming clearer in the evaluation of genetic diseases, undiagnosed conditions, prenatal testing, and precision oncology. Furthermore, saliva as a sample source for WGS has been validated to perform in comparison to blood (most recently supported by Illumina’s Nextera DNA Flex Library Prep for WGS). 2017 brought evidence-based processes to conduct this evaluation and address the question.
8. Personalized genetics for dogs. We are all aware of the buzz in recent years about direct-to-consumer genetic testing but in 2017, we saw the emergence of the direct-to-canine genetic testing market. Several companies in this space have launched genomic services for canine breed identification, health and traits based on our Performagene™ DNA collection kit. Performagene uses the same principles as our human DNA collection kits and offers a simple, non-invasive sponge kit for the collection, stabilization and transportation of animal DNA samples.
9. Gut microbiome and the fight against cancer. One of the most exciting discoveries in 2017 was the potential impact of the microbiome on cancer drug response. One study from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center showed that bacteria that live in the human digestive tract can influence how cancer responds to immunotherapy, opening a new avenue for research to discover improved treatment options. Their study showed that patients with metastatic melanoma treated with anti-PD1 checkpoint blockade have their disease controlled longer if they have a more diverse population of bacteria in the gut or an abundance of certain types of bacteria, according to the team’s analysis of patients’ gut microbial profile. As study leader Jennifer Wargo, M.D., associate professor of Surgical Oncology and Genomic Medicine stated, “You can change your microbiome, it’s really not that difficult, so we think these findings open up huge new opportunities.”
10. The human motivation behind human health. Finally, this year’s top 10 list is a tribute to the phenomenal team of people I work with everyday at DNA Genotek. I watch them execute small miracles on a daily basis - from impeccable attention to detail in our product customizations, to going above the call of duty to make sure a shipment gets to a customer on time, to an outstanding focus on quality. They do this because they believe in the work our customers are doing. They believe that one day, our products will ship to someone who will find a treatment or cure for a disease that impacts them, their family, or someone they know. Now that's motivation!
I hope you enjoyed this 9th edition of our annual Top 10 list. If you have ideas for our 2018 list or think I missed something that should be on our 2017 list, leave a comment and let me know.