Minister Lenihan Opens Ireland’s First ‘Next-Generation’ DNA Laboratory at TCD’s Institute of Molecular Medicine

Posted on: 10 June 2009

 New Laboratory to Enable Research into Psychiatric Disorders, Infectious Diseases and Cancer that has potential to improve Patient Care

Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation, Conor Lenihan T.D. opened Ireland’s first Genome Sequencing Laboratory, a new cutting-edge DNA sequencing laboratory enabling research into psychiatric disorders, cancers, infectious diseases and conditions affecting the immune system, based in Trinity College Dublin’s Institute of Molecular Medicine  on June 8th last.

Funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the new Trinity Genome Sequencing Laboratory houses an ‘Illumina Genome Analyzer II’, the first ‘next generation DNA sequencing’ platform to be set up in Ireland. This new technology allows scientists to undertake studies in molecular biology and genetics research that were previously not technically or economically feasible. This new technology enables ultra-high throughput DNA sequencing which is dramatically quicker and cheaper than older technologies.

Dr Stephen Simpson, SFI, Dr Derek Morris, Principle Investigator, Conor Lenihan, TD, Prof Michael Gill, Head of the Neuropsychiatric Genetic Research Group, Prof Dermot Kelleher, Director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine and Head of the TCD School of Medicine

Speaking at the opening of the new laboratory, Minister Lenihan said: “The myth that science is not really all that relevant to our day-to-day lives is dispelled by the capability of this impressive SFI funded facility which is the first of its kind in Ireland. This new resource enables advancement in research and further enhances Ireland’s international standing in the scientific sphere. The Minister added, “The discoveries and breakthroughs that you and your peers are unearthing in the course of your day-to-day research activities will have very significant health, social and economic impacts in Ireland”.

The Trinity Genome Sequencing Laboratory is funded by an SFI grant to Dr Derek Morris and TCD’s School of Medicine. Dr Morris is a principal investigator in the Neuropsychiatric Genetics Research Group in Trinity’s Department of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine. The laboratory is located in the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Trinity Centre for Health Sciences on the St James’s Hospital campus in Dublin.

A very important area of application of the facility will be research into the molecular basis of human disease. Most common disorders such as psychiatric disorders, disorders of the immune and many cancers are caused by a complex underlying biology. Within the Institute of Molecular Medicine at TCD, this technology will support research into the molecular basis of common human diseases in the areas of infection and immunity, cancer and neurosciences which are currently key areas of research at Trinity. Dr Morris’s own area of research is the study of genes that cause psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Commenting on the impact of the new technology for research into psychiatric disorders, Professor Michael Gill, Head of the Neuropsychiatric Genetic Research Group stated: “These disorders have a very significant health, social and economic impact in Ireland. Identifying causative or risk genes will advance our understanding of the biology of these disorders and inform the development of new methods of diagnosis and new drug therapies. This new DNA sequencing technology will greatly accelerate the search for risk genes for schizophrenia by enabling Trinity’s Neuropsychiatric Genetics Research Group to sequence many genes in many patient samples to identify the subtle changes to the DNA code that results in a gene not functioning properly and thus contributing to the development of the illness”.

Professor Dermot Kelleher, Director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine and Head of the TCD School of Medicine acknowledged the role of Science Foundation Ireland in supporting top-class research in Trinity: “By supporting this new laboratory, SFI is supplying researchers in Ireland with the state-of-the-art tools necessary to study these illnesses and participate in collaborative research at a very high international standard”.

Speaking at the opening, SFI Director of Life Sciences, Dr. Stephen Simpson, said: “SFI is confident that strategic investment in additional resources and infrastructure accelerates research output and enhances research quality. In recognising that gaps had previously existed within the Irish research landscape, SFI funded an Equipment Call in 2007 to current awardees of all SFI grants. The coming to fruition of this innovative facility represents a new and exciting chapter in genetic research in Ireland.”

Background Information:
– DNA is the genetic material that carries the instructions for life within each cell of any organism, including all cells in the human body. The DNA is arranged into a code that represents the blueprint for all functions within a cell. The total compliment of genes within a cell is known as the genome. The human genome contains approximately 3 billion bases of DNA that code for approximately 20,000 genes on 23 pairs of chromosomes.

– DNA sequencing is the process of deciphering the genetic code of a particular gene, a set of genes, or the whole genome (all 3 billion bases). Technology to enable DNA sequencing has been in existence for more than 20 years. This technology has underpinned some of the most important scientific achievements during that period including the Human Genome Project, the first full sequence of the human genome and all its genes. Due to the advances in the development of the technology, the new facility installed at TCD’s Institute of Molecular Medicine can generate DNA sequence that is high-throughput, precise and cost-effective and this facility will now be made available to researchers nationwide.

– The Trinity Genome Sequencing Laboratory is funded by an SFI grant of €557,724.