Genomics set to change healthcare, farming in Canada

Scientists are confident of the impact genomics can have on the Canadian healthcare and agriculture industries.

Genome Canada recently announced that it will contribute $3.1 million in funding to support academic and industry groups that are using genomic technologies to overcome hurdles in farming and healthcare.

Genomics for innovation
One project Genome Canada will back includes a collaboration between Dow AgroSciences and the University of Alberta to use genomics to raise the levels of oil and protein canola seeds contain while simultaneously decreasing fiber and saturated fat levels. Another initiative involves researchers from GenePOC and the University of Laval who are developing point-of-care tools that analyze gene sequences to diagnose streptococcal and staphylococci infections.

"The federal government is pleased to support these applied genomics research projects where the science has potential to spur innovation and give Canadian companies a competitive edge in global markets, thereby creating jobs and economic growth," said Canadian Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan in a statement.

Genome Canada is a government-funded non-profit that aims to develop genomic technologies that will provide social and economic benefits for the country. Last summer, the organization, in partnership with other non-profits, local governments and private sector groups contributed nearly $70 million in funding to genomic projects that would impact fisheries, aquaculture and agriculture.

Improving patient care
The pledge from Genome Canada comes as a biotechnology company in Vancouver announced it would start a groundbreaking practice.

Contextual Genomics will make a new cancer genome test available to 1,500 cancer patients for free, reported the CTV News. They are the first Canadian company to provide gene therapy for cancer patients.

For the test, doctors will take a sample of a tumor and send it to Contextual Genomics, which will then identify the specific changes in the cell that caused the cancer. Then, doctors and their patients receive a report from the company that names the drugs that are likely to be successful in treating the type of cancer, along with those that are unlikely to work, the news source explained.

This new test represents the first stage of the growing field of "personalized medicine" in cancer treatment. Typically, all patients with a specific kind of cancer receive the same, generalized treatment, however, personalized medicine analyzes the gene sequences of each patient to identify the best treatment plan.

Some scientists emphasize that the field of personalized gene therapy in cancer treatment is still in its early stages, and is largely experimental. It will take many years to determine if the method is effective, but, if proven to be beneficial, the treatment would be groundbreaking.