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​UPMC and Pitt Launch Genome Center to Advance Precision Medicine and Immunotherapy

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Cynthia Patton

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PITTSBURGH – UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh today announced the launch of an advanced genome sequencing center to support clinical diagnostics and research initiatives in precision medicine and immunotherapy.
The UPMC Genome Center, established with funding from the recently announced UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center (ITTC) and the Institute for Precision Medicine at UPMC and Pitt, will provide clinicians and researchers access to a large-scale genomics facility that has undergone rigorous validation testing and has obtained Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certification required to conduct clinical research and diagnostics. The Genome Center is the largest and only CLIA-certified, high-throughput whole-genome sequencing center in Pennsylvania.
The center allows researchers and physicians to take advantage of rapid advances in genome sequencing, a process that reads the string of letters in DNA molecules that make up our genetic code.  These advances have led to new ways of diagnosing diseases and created the emerging field of precision medicine where treatments are tailored to each individual’s unique genetic makeup.
“The Genome Center is an example of how UPMC and Pitt are accelerating innovation in health care right here in Pittsburgh,” said Steven Shapiro, M.D., chief medical and scientific officer of UPMC. “With this program, we will continue to deliver cutting-edge scientific discovery and help drive precision medicine forward.”
“The Genome Center represents a significant leap forward in our research infrastructure, and will allow our scientists to conduct cutting-edge biomedical research that can eventually be translated to groundbreaking new therapies,” said Arthur Levine, M.D., Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine
Initial projects in the Genome Center will involve research from UPMC and Pitt investigators in the ITTC and support several additional programs, including examining whether rapid whole-genome sequencing can be used to diagnose critically ill infants admitted to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
The center also will sequence the genomes of approximately 600 cancer patients currently being administered immunotherapy at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center to determine the impact of genetic makeup on treatment response or guide physicians in choosing the right cancer therapy for patients. 
“The Genome Center provides researchers and physicians with access to a world-class genomics infrastructure that they previously had to outsource to other companies or institutions outside of this region,” said Annerose Berndt, Ph.D., director of the Genome Center. “We now can sequence a complete genome in less than 2 days and analyze it in less than two hours – a remarkable advance that not only increases the pace of basic research, but also provides a crucial advantage in the clinical setting where doctors are looking for tools to help them diagnose and treat sick patients quickly.” 
The center boasts five next-generation NovaSeq 6000 Systems along with liquid-handling robots for automated sample preparation and processing. The laboratory also is tightly integrated with fully cloud-based, cutting-edge bioinformatics capabilities that allow researchers to monitor and access their data on the cloud from anywhere. 
“The dramatic reduction in time and cost to sequence a genome is having a disruptive effect upon both our understanding of disease, and our ability to precisely deliver next-generation therapies,” said Adrian V. Lee, Ph.D., Pittsburgh Foundation Chair in Precision Medicine and director of the Institute for Precision Medicine at UPMC and Pitt.
In the future, the center also will leverage the extensive biobanking effort at Pitt, which has more than half a million biological samples, and hopes to work with industry partners to advance drug discovery and develop new therapies to help patients in the community and around the world.