Goal is to produce accurate sequence of one human cancer cell; could lead to new cancer tests

Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers will find the latest “prize” for a genetic breakthrough to have direct relevance to molecular diagnostics. One million dollars will go to the first person who sequences an entire cancer cell genome, including all of the RNA, using a specific whole human genome sequencer made by Carlsbad, California-based Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE).

This is the fourth of seven challenges being put out to the public at large. It is part of the global biotechnology company’s crowdsourcing initiative, dubbed the “Life Grand Challenges Contest.” Life Technologies first announced the contest in December of 2010, and since then, has posed three earlier challenges, each one also paying $1 million upon completion and verification.

Life Technologies announced the latest challenge on February 2nd, which must be completed on the company’s 5500 Series SOLiD™ Sequencer.

The Great Goal

Genomic scientists believe that someday we will have at our disposal the recorded DNA and RNA of every living human on the planet. They say it’s only a matter of the technology catching up with the science, and when that happens, and perhaps before, the resulting discoveries derived from the data will revolutionize the healthcare industry in ways we cannot yet imagine. Several technology companies, scientific organizations and a few governments are collaborating to fulfill that prediction.

With this latest challenge, Life Technologies intends to fill the gaps in known knowledge concerning the genetic differences in cancer cells of the same tumor. For anatomic pathologists, the publication of a fully-mapped cancer cell genome, including RNA, might possibly accelerate the development of molecular diagnostic tests and genetic tests that advance the diagnosis of cancer.

“Although scientists have successfully sequenced the entire transcriptome of a single murine cell using the SOLiD System, as documented in the May 7, 2010 issue of Cell Stem Cell, they have yet to sequence the entire genome of one cell,” Life Technologies said in a press release. “Successful achievement of this latest Grand Challenge will, therefore, double what is currently possible by sequencing both the entire genome and all RNA, including mRNA, microRNAs and other types of RNA molecules expressed in a single cancer cell, using the SOLiD System. Results must be validated using alternative techniques, such as capillary electrophoresis sequencing or quantitative PCR.”

Guilford, Connecticut-based Ion Torrent was acquired by Life Technologies in 2010 for $375 million. It was Ion Torrent that created the Personal Genome Machine Sequencer that converts chemical signals into digital information using proprietary semiconductor technology.

Life Technologies’ first three $1 million challenges involve Ion semiconductor sequencing and seek to:

  1. produce twice as much sequence data,
  2. do it twice as fast; and,
  3. do it with twice the accuracy.

“The threshold for winning is to produce results 2X better than the best internal Ion Torrent record at the time of submission,” according to an Ion Torrent press release.

“Point-and-shoot digital cameras opened up photography to everyone,” stated Ion Torrent’s founder, Jonathan M. Rothberg, M.S., M.Phil., Ph.D., in the same press release. These digital cameras transformed photography “because they were fast, cheap, and easy, and people saw the results immediately, so they quickly became better photographers. That’s what Ion is doing for DNA sequencing.” Life Technologies plans to announce the remaining three challenges later in 2011.

Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists recognize that the $1 million genetic challenges offered by Life Technologies are designed to encourage more sophisticated uses for the company’s proprietary whole human genome sequencing systems. However, at the same time, should researchers succeed in mapping the full genome of a cancer cell, that knowledge is likely to accelerate the development of new laboratory tests that can be used to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

—Michael McBride

Related Information:

$1 Million Up for Grabs for Performing DNA and RNA Sequencing of a Single Cancer Cell

Life Grand Challenges: Discover more about the Life Grand Challenges and how you could be the winner of a $1 million prize.

Life Technologies Launches Ion PGM Sequencer Company Initiates $7 Million Life Grand Challenges Crowdsourcing Contest