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The Greatest Wealth is Health- European Scientific Summit Day 1

Lucas Smink
| May 23, 2013

Virgil- health is wealthThe title here is referencing a quote attributed to Publius Vergilius Maro, commonly known as Virgil, one of the greatest Roman poets. It is interesting to see quite how many quotes and phrases are all focused around our health, and how important good health is. I guess it is our vested interest that has sparked so much research into disease. The human condition was the topic of the first sessions at the first day of the Illumina Scientific Summit for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), which is being held in Berlin with over 200 delegates. The sessions focused on cancer and public health. A stellar lineup of speakers, local and international, was featured in the three-day event.

Edward Oakeley from Novartis made the point in his talk that mutations define us and that currently we treat the symptoms rather than the cause, and really it should be the other way around. His group is interested in finding biomarkers and linking alternative splicing and differential expression using next-generation sequencing for RNA.

Next-generation sequencing has sparked a number of large international cancer projects such as the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC). Dr. David Jones from the German Cancer Research Center, or Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (DKFZ) talked about the PedBrain project investigating pediatric brain tumours. Dr. Jones discussed the use of methylation arrays (HM450) to study methylation patterns form formalin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) samples. Their study showed that 7,000 genes have a methylation correlating region. Project like this aren't solely reliant on sequencing, supporting the use of DNA methylation status as a stable marker and potentially a very useful clinical tool.

The next talk by Nazneen Rahman from the Institute of Cancer Research focused on the clinic- in this case, on inherited cancers. One of the subjects of her talk was about mainstreaming cancer genetics, in that routine genetic testing should be available to all cancer patients. Using the TruSight Cancer Panel, her team is setting up a clinical-grade pipeline for rapid high-throughput analysis. The last talk in the cancer session was by Carlos Caldas from University of Cambridge on breast cancer. One of the topics Dr. Caldas touched on was the 2012 Nature publication in which subgrouping data from a large number of breast cancer samples with long-term clinical follow-up indicates that "breast cancer" is in fact 10 different diseases.

There were a couple of recurrent themes in the public health session, Jennifer Gardy from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control emphasized the importance of open access to data. Her group makes their data available for other researchers so that it is used to its fullest potential. A point echoed by Sharon Peacock from the University of Cambridge who discussed the use of whole-genome sequencing in diagnostic and public health microbiology, the availability of open data will really improve the availability of good reference genomes. Like Dr. Gardy, Dr. Peacock also highlighted tuberculosis (TB) as a high priority due to its global importance. In keeping with the TB theme, Mark Pallen from Warwick Medical School showed some interesting findings implicating tuberculosis infection in the lungs of a 200 year-old Hungarian mummy.

All of the speakers were truly engaging and thought-provoking; I will provide more details from the other talks in my next post!