As biobanking becomes more and more important to modern translational research, it has become just as vital for research centers to invest in biobanking software equipment, from analytical instruments to laboratory management software. Fortunately, the development of this technology seems to be advancing just as rapidly as the demand. The latest example can be seen in Washington University’s newest purchase: the college’s Genome Institute recently acquired a new genetic sequencing machine that can sequence genomes in a mere three days.
It first took scientists around the world more than 10 years and around $1 billion to sequence the human genome. However, things have improved considerably since this feat was accomplished in 2003: now, using equipment like the HiSeq X machine, researchers can sequence human genomes in three days, creating a total of 18,000 a year at $1,000 to $1,500 per genome. Given the benefits of this awe-inspiring innovation, the Genome Institute at Washington University has purchased 10 of these machines, each costing $1 million.
This genome sequencing machine is a huge departure from the origins of this important mission: 25 years ago, researchers would dispense solutions into a large test tube to prepare DNA for sequencing. Over time, this processed evolved into smaller test tubes and trays of small wells, which eventually increased to millions of tiny divots on a single plate. Today, the flow cells in a genome sequencing machine can hold about 3 billion DNA molecules at once, which can all be sequenced at the same time. As a result, the average research center now has to make space for data centers and invest in laboratory management software to track, analyze and control the vast amounts of data they are given.
The purchase is a huge investment, but its considered a worthwhile venture for the institute, which was formed in the 1990s to map the human genome, eventually contributing more than 25% of the first successful sequencing. Since then, the organization has dedicated itself to studying the genetic causes of arthritis, diabetes, cancer and other conditions, with the hope of eventually being able to predict disease. Representatives say that the purchase will help them remain competitive with other research centers, especially as they seek federal grants to support their work with heart disease, diabetes and autoimmune disorders.
Moreover, the machine’s creator, Illumina, argues that the high price is worth the results: only sold in groups of 10, company spokesmen say that having a number of machines helps make the technology more cost-effective for large-scale human genome sequencing, which will analyze tens of thousands of molecules at once. This increase in speed and reduced price will allow scientists to take on much bigger and more complicated projects, increasing the likelihood of uncovering valuable data. Likewise, the $10 million price tags ensures that only the most experienced and prepared institutions will purchase the machines. Currently, the Genome Institute is one of only 20 laboratories around the world with the system. Could your biobank benefit from investing in new equipment and laboratory management software as well?