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31 Oct 2018

New cellular genomics institute launches

The Garvan-led UNSW Cellular Genomics Futures Institute is set to accelerate research in cellular genomics and single-cell sequencing – and to uncover new targets and treatments for disease.

The UNSW Futures Institute will focus on the new technology of cellular genomics, which seeks to characterise the genetic outputs of individual cells, thousands of cells at a time.

Professor Chris Goodnow, Garvan’s Executive Director, will be the inaugural Director of the UNSW Cellular Genomics Futures Institute, and Associate Professor Joseph Powell, Head of the Garvan-Weizmann Centre for Cellular Genomics, will be the Deputy Director. The Institute also brings together UNSW’s researchers from across medicine, science, and engineering, including from the Ramaciotti Centre for Genomics and the Kirby Institute.

Prof Goodnow says, “I’m delighted that Garvan is playing a crucial leadership role in this new UNSW Futures Institute, which will tackle major challenges in single-cell genomics – the next great revolution in medicine.”

Cellular genomics aims to overcome a major stumbling block in the study of human cells in health and disease. Many diseases, such as cancers and autoimmune diseases, arise from changes in only one or a few cells in the body. But, until recently, technological limitations have meant that we couldn’t look directly at the genetic output of those rare cells. Instead, researchers have had had to look at millions of cells homogenised together, severely limiting what can be learned about the cells that ‘kick off’ disease.

The sheer amount of data that will be generated from each of many thousands of cells requires data analytical tools, machine learning and data visualisation techniques that will be developed through the multi-disciplinary nature of the UNSW Futures Institute. 

A/Prof Powell says, “The new UNSW Futures Institute is a fantastic recognition of Garvan’s leadership in cellular genomics through the Garvan-Weizmann Centre for Cellular Genomics, and it provides an outstanding opportunity for Garvan to work more closely with UNSW to drive the translation of our research in cellular diagnostics and therapies to health outcomes.

“Importantly, the UNSW Futures Institute is set to accelerate the work of the Garvan-Weizmann Centre, which was launched last year and whose research is exploring which individual cells contribute to the progression of diseases such as cancer, autoimmune disease and neurodegenerative disorders and how these cells develop.”

Professor Nicholas Fisk, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research (UNSW) said, “Using cellular genomics techniques and technology has very quickly become a vibrant field of scientific research and is an area that has the potential for enormous impact on health outcomes for people across Australia and globally. Through the UNSW Futures initiative, we will leverage the expertise and combined research infrastructure of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and UNSW, positioning us at the forefront of precision medicine.”

The UNSW Cellular Genomics Futures Institute is one of four UNSW Futures Institutes to launch this month. The other three UNSW Futures Institutes focus on aging, global energy systems and materials and manufacturing.

The four new UNSW Futures Institutes were formally launched on October 24th at an event on UNSW’s Kensington campus.