Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has launched the Center for Computational and Genomic Medicine, a research center designed to marry computational biology and experimental biology
Computational biologist Yi Xing, Ph.D., leads the center, which includes the approximately 20-member laboratory team that he relocated over the summer from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where in 2006 he earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology with a specialty in bioinformatics.
The center aims to apply recent advancements in sequencing technology and computational biology toward discoveries in the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric diseases.
“We will use data and technology to make a difference in people's lives,” Dr. Xing said in a statement. “The key interest of our lab is to understand how these RNA-level complexities are generated and what is the function or medical relevance of this extreme level of complexity.”
In addition to being the center’s inaugural director, Dr. Xing is also the new Francis West Lewis Chair in Computational and Genomic Medicine at CHOP—as well as a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
The center—which officially opened on September 1—plans to recruit new faculty members, specifically experts who have proven both adept at using existing technology, and also capable of developing new genomic technologies or computational tools that can be offered to a broader community of scientists.
“We want to bring new faculty who are very research driven and also are technology innovators,” Dr. Xing added. “Our goal is to make the center an engine for technological and biomedical innovation,” Dr. Xing added.
Dr. Xing's laboratory will continue studying cancer immunotherapy, CHOP said, building on expertise in what has become a major research and clinical area at the hospital. In December 2017, Spark Therapeutics—a Philadelphia biopharma spun out of CHOP four years earlier—won FDA approval for Luxturna™ (voretigene neparvovec), a one-time adeno-associated virus vector-based gene therapy indicated for the treatment of patients with confirmed biallelic RPE65 mutation-associated retinal dystrophy.
Focus on RNA Processing, Regulation
Dr. Xing said he also expected to develop a focus on genetic diseases, with a long-term research goal of investigating how variation in RNA processing and regulation affects human health and disease—since RNA-level regulatory processes can change how gene products are made and cause disease, modify disease risk, or make a disease milder or more severe.
Together with his research team, Dr. Xing has specialized in defining the fundamental data structure and algorithms for investigating the complexity of RNA—in one instance, through a computational tool called rMATS that is designed to detect differential alternative RNA processing events from large scale RNA sequencing data.
Dr. Xing’s team is expected to employ transcriptomics, proteomics and other “omic” types of big data analysis toward identifying novel proteins that reside in cancer cells, but not in normal cells. If those proteins can be recognized and attacked by the immune system, they could become targets for new precision medicine cancer treatments, he and colleagues reason.
On January 4, Dr. Xing, and colleagues, published a review article in The American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG) summarizing major findings from population transcriptomic studies of alternative splicing, and discussing the implications of those findings for human genetics and medicine.
CHOP said Dr. Xing plans broad collaborations with existing centers and programs at the hospital—including the Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics and the Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics.
CHOP’s status as a large pediatric hospital, according to Dr. Xing, will enable his research team to apply expertise toward investigating the underexplored roles of RNA defects, with the aim of helping drive new discoveries in children's health.
According to CHOP, Dr. Xing's work in managing and interpreting big data offers opportunities for improved diagnoses and treatments.
“Dr. Xing is one of the world's outstanding investigators in this crucial area—harnessing innovative computational approaches to discover new avenues to advance human health,” stated Beverly L. Davidson, PhD, CHOP's Chief Scientific Strategy Officer. “We are excited that he and his team will enhance one of our core missions—using collaborative data to benefit children and families worldwide.”