British Columbia’s Genome Sciences Centre

Imagine trying to circumnavigate the globe without a compass. Or to understand the workings of a cell without a microscope. Or to study the patterns of the stars without a telescope. Today, as scientists attempt to probe the inner workings of our genes, they need the tools that will make discovery possible.

The British Columbia Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre has emerged as a world leader in providing some of those tools. The state-of-the-art facility boasts sophisticated equipment and technology, including specialized machines for sequencing genomes and analyzing genetic material.

In 2003, the Centre attracted international attention when it sequenced the virus associated with SARS within days – an achievement the World Health Organization called "breathtaking."

The facility is unique in that it brings together computer scientists, engineers, biologists, biochemists and physicists in a multidisciplinary environment. "This platform puts Canada at the very forefront of technology and has allowed Canadian scientists to emerge as leaders in genomics," says Dr. Marco Marra, Director of the Centre.

Marra points to the number of leading genomics studies served by the Centre, including 12 large-scale genomics research projects sponsored by Genome Canada. Scientists at the Centre are performing pioneering work on infectious diseases, lymphoma and other cancers; developing new tools to diagnose and evaluate mental retardation and providing vital support for a North American effort to map and study the mouse genome as a way of gaining insight into the role of genetic changes in human disease.

Using sophisticated DNA sequencing and gene expression profiling technology, researchers at the Centre are also examining thousands of genes in the hope of learning what makes some people susceptible to cancer and which changes occur in gene function as cancer develops.

The Centre is the base for Canada’s work on a major international project to sequence and analyze the bovine genome. As Dr. Marra explains, this project is important on a number of levels: "It will help us to produce both tools and knowledge that will be enormously important in helping scientists to understand issues related to bovine health and disease, including mad cow disease, which was so devastating to the Canadian economy in recent years."

Dr. Marra further explains, "Because the cow genome is similar in size to that of humans and other mammals, it will help medical researchers to develop better ways of locating genes and the switches that turn them on or off. (The sequenced genome) will also serve as a tool for agricultural researchers working to improve health and disease management of cattle, while enhancing the nutritional value of beef and dairy products."

Within a few short years, the Centre has catapulted Canada into the front ranks of genomics. Its research papers are among the most cited in the biomedical field. And by providing advanced genomics services to researchers in Canada and around the world, it is quickly earning a reputation as a key source of innovative research and analysis.

With major international successes already under its belt and the capacity to achieve many more, the Genome Sciences Centre is furnishing the tools that will shape tomorrow and open up new possibilities for exploration.

British Columbia’s Genome Sciences Centre

Dr. Marco Marra, Director of the The British Columbia Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre