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Smartphones seen to process genomic data in 5-7 years

Posted: 11 Jun 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Illumina  smartphone  genetic medicine  genomic detection 

Illumina Inc. has revealed its plan to develop a chip that plugs into a smartphone, bringing genetic medicine to the individual. This consumer product is predicted to revolutionize the way patients' tests are conducted, according to the company.

The smartphone will become "a molecular stethoscope," said Mostafa Ronaghi, Illumina's CTO. "We will not need a primary doctor in the future, you will get tested [at home or in a clinic] and go directly to a specialist. I believe it will happen in five to seven years," Ronaghi predicted.

Researchers at Illumina are working on pieces of the solution. Finding biocompatible interfaces between "wet and dry science" is one of the biggest challenges, he said, noting some applications require as much as 10mL of blood.

Separately, the team is still evaluating electrical, optical and other means for on-chip genomic detection. Extracting and processing genomic data can take as many as 30 steps, he said.

So far, Illumina has demonstrated digital microfluidics on silicon with the help of researchers from the CEA-Leti. Illumina hopes to launch in July devices that can assay as many as 16 samples in silicon, using technology it acquired, he added.

Another issue is handling cloud connectivity given some uses generate as much as a 100GB of data. Some researchers are basing efforts on proteins, which would generate much more data, but Ronaghi believes most work will focus on nucleic acids. "We are focused on genomics and feel most questions can be answered by genomics," he said.

Human genome sequencing cost

Costs of sequencing the human genome plummeted from $100 million at the turn of the century to $1M in 2008 to $1,000 in March 2014, according to Illumina.

Although it's still early days for genomics, costs and lives are being saved applying the technology to cancer treatments and pregnancy care, he said. Today about $12 billion of the estimated $20 genomics industry is in oncology, he said. The next biggest slice is $5 billion in systems for researchers, followed by a rapidly growing $2 billion segment in reproductive health and $1 billion in other emerging applications.

Illumina is one of the leaders in genomics, said an Imec researcher following the field. In its last financial quarter, the company generated $421 million in revenues and $60 million in profits for sales of its family of sequencing systems.

- Rick Merritt
  EE Times

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