From Bench to Patient Bedside

Discoveries at HudsonAlpha are translating directly to improved patient care across multiple disciplines.

Rapid response flu test developed

In 2009, when it appeared the H1N1 influenza virus was reaching pandemic levels, HudsonAlpha faculty investigator Jian Han, M.D., Ph.D., utilized his expertise to develop a rapid-response diagnostic test. The test allowed care providers to differentiate between H1N1, or swine flu, and other strains of flu and bacterial and viral illnesses that appeared similar, in less than six hours. Speeding the test to market required no more than walking across HudsonAlpha’s atrium and into the office of one of the Institute’s associate companies. The test used proprietary molecular technology developed by Han and made available by Diatherix, a HudsonAlpha associate company located less than 50 yards from Han’s lab.

The advantage of target-enriched multiplex polymerase chain reaction, or tem-PCR, technology is its ability to quickly check for multiple pathogens all at once. Because the majority of H1N1 deaths involved patients who had swine flu plus another type of infection, the capability of the HudsonAlpha-developed test to quickly evaluate samples for nearly two dozen other viruses and bacteria at the same time as for H1N1 better equipped doctors with information about how to best treat patients with multiple infections.

Through Diatherix, the test was made available quickly to hospitals, private physician practices and public health departments.

Identifying the causes of childhood cancers

Childhood cancers can be particularly aggressive and difficult to treat, but identifying the genetic cause can provide valuable information to allow gene targeted therapies.

At HudsonAlpha, researchers took on a common and aggressive cancer, Burkitt lymphoma. It is one of the fastest-growing cancers, spreads quickly to other organs and causes death quickly if not treated.

By sequencing the exomes of Burkitt lymphoma tumors, HudsonAlpha is identifying new gene targets for young patients. Faculty investigator Shawn Levy, Ph.D., in collaboration with the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy and others, has identified some of the genetic mutations that allow the cancer cells to grow uncontrollably in patients’ lymphatic systems.

Equipped with this information, the scientific community may be able to pinpoint more therapeutic targets for the disease, which right now is treated primarily with aggressive chemotherapy.

Bringing personal genomics to patient care

For patients with a rare disease, the search for the cause of disease—the diagnostic odyssey—can last years. We now know that the answers may lie in a patient’s DNA. Just as your fingerprint is unique to you, so is your DNA genetic code.

Two new companies powered by HudsonAlpha’s sequencing expertise and located on its campus will directly benefit the region’s sickest patients with rare and undiagnosed disease.

A genomic medicine clinic will see patients in person; the clinical sequencing lab will provide whole genome sequencing to patients whose physicians are located elsewhere. In both cases, genomic sequencing technologies will be used to identify the causes of undiagnosed disease for these patients who have exhausted traditional diagnostic approaches.

Although genomic medicine won’t always lead to new therapies, knowing the cause of disease allows physicians to pursue the right avenue of treatment and also provides valuable information to families.