Jeff Milbrandt, M.D., Ph.D., James S. McDonnell Professor and head of the Department of Genetics, is helping usher in a new era at the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Milbrandt, who was recently appointed executive director of the Genome Institute, said the Genome Institute will expand its work beyond genome sequencing to focus on ways to connect data to patient care. The scientific community in the past has made great strides in sequencing genomes and identifying genetic variants, but the next step is figuring out which of those variants play a role in disease.

“We want to identify those DNA variations that are crucial to the disease process, so we can develop better treatments,” Milbrandt said in a press release. “With that in mind, I see the McDonnell Genome Institute serving as a hub for precision medicine at Washington University. This will be a major transformation, from the current concentration on ‘reading’ the genome to one focused on interpreting genome variation associated with disease, followed closely by the era of ‘writing’ the genome, where we alter the genome to prevent or treat disease. We will continue large-scale sequencing activities, but we also want to understand how changes in the genome contribute to disease so that we can use that knowledge to development new treatments.”

As part of the transition, centers established by the Department of Genetics for genome sequencing and genome engineering including the Genome Engineering and iPSC Center (GEiC) and the Genome Technology Access Center (GTAC) will be brought under the McDonnell Genome Institute umbrella.

“Together with its talented and dedicated staff and affiliated centers, the Genome Institute is poised to make important contributions to the personalized medicine initiative at Washington University School of Medicine,” Milbrandt said.