Center for Genomic Diagnostics to build new technology for detecting disease

1/29/2020 3:02:34 PM Allie Arp, CSL

During the last decade, the Holonyak Micro & Nanotechnology Laboratory and Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) have partnered together to use computational bioinformatics, biosensing instruments, and biochemistry to develop new ways to diagnose cancer. 

Center for Genomic Diagnostics Director, Brian Cunningham
Center for Genomic Diagnostics Director, Brian Cunningham

After finding success, the group began expanding its efforts to include other diseases, resulting in the formation of the Center for Genomic Diagnostics. The Center for Genomic Diagnostics will focus on building new platforms for detecting different types of disease, including cancer, the Zika virus, and others.

The Center will have touch points with many different parts of campus including the Cancer Center at Illinois, which is leveraging science, technology, and engineering to advance cancer detection, prevention, diagnosis, therapy, and quality of life.

“We recognize that molecules are capable of detecting nucleic acids, proteins, or metabolites, which  can have relevance to not only cancer, but also to many other things,”said Brian Cunningham, director of the Center for Genomic Diagnostics and Holonyak Lab.

The goal of the center is to take a more comprehensive look at how to build new devices capable of detecting biomarkers in bodily fluids. Once detected, the fluids, such as urine, saliva, and spinal fluid, can inform researchers about a variety of biological processes, some of which are involved with disease development and detection. By detecting nucleic acid molecules in bodily fluids, researchers will be able to identify cancer mutations, infectious diseases, viruses, and even psychological stress markers.

The Center for Genomic Diagnostics is currently funded by the Grainger College of Engineering and IGB, with project-specific funding from the National Institutes of Health. One NIH project involves building a smartphone detection platform for Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya viruses, though the device could be leveraged to identify many types of viruses or bacteria.

“While the center will be an important component of the Cancer Center at Illinois, we’re expanding our scope to monitor health and wellness in the clinic at the point of care,” said Cunningham, Donald Biggar Willett Professor in Engineering.  “This organization will impact many different parts of patient care and the research will touch many different parts of campus.”

The center plans to host a symposium in the spring of 2020. To read more about the Center for Genomic Diagnostics, IGB click here.