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Building Capacity for Improved Public Health Delivery

By September 11, 2017No Comments

Genome BC has invested approximately $850,000 towards two projects that successfully illustrate the application of precision health in our Province’s public healthcare system. These evidence-based projects demonstrate the impact of genomics on healthcare challenges through increased efficiencies and new treatment options.

The first project uses genomics to better prevent the spread of “superbugs” in hospitals and care facilities. Carbapenemase-producing organisms (CPO) are part of an emerging group of bacteria that are becoming resistant to antibiotics, posing a serious global public health threat. Typically, carbapenem antibiotics are used for the toughest infections. However, CPO bacteria have acquired genes to make them resistant to these carbapenem antibiotics, and, in some cases, all antibiotics. This means that what should be a simple infection to treat, risks becoming untreatable. Understanding how CPOs spread in hospitals or care facilities is the key to stopping further transmissions.

CPOs were first discovered in BC in 2008, and after a severe CPO outbreak in 2014 a mandatory CPO surveillance program in acute care facilities was created. “The last thing we want is to have very sick patients with a bacterial infection that can’t be treated,” said Dr. Mel Krajden, Associate Medical Director, BC Centre for Disease Control.

Regional provincial health authorities, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), and the Provincial Infection Control Network of British Columbia (PICNet) have been monitoring a steady increase in CPO cases since 2010. To support the surveillance program, genome sequencing will be used to “fingerprint” the CPOs detected in cases. This will help to understand if infections were acquired abroad or locally and help determine how infections are being transmitted.

“The molecular fingerprints will explain how transmissions are spread in healthcare settings to devise targeted prevention measures,” said Dr. Krajden. “The lessons learned will be shared with PICNet, which aims to reduce healthcare associated infections by improving infection prevention control practices in BC, and with colleagues around the world.”

The second project builds on existing capacity at the BC Cancer Agency’s Centre for Clinical Genomics (CCG). The team, led by Dr. Aly Karsan, has pioneered the application of genomic tests for cancer as well as non-malignant conditions to patients in BC and across Canada.

The CCG has identified a need for more automation and analysis software to make genomic testing available to a greater number of people. Dr. Karsan and his team are developing a web-based interface for the submission of clinical specimens and subsequent delivery of results: this system will lead to a four-fold increase in efficiency.

“The project will create a simple web-based process to receive patient information from clinicians requesting a genomic test, analyze the resulting data in an automated and quality controlled fashion, and then integrate patient demographics and analysis results into an intuitive report accessible via the same web-tool the clinician used to submit the sample,” says Dr. Karsan, Medical Director of the CCG.

“These investments are taking us even closer to realizing genomic applications in every day healthcare delivery,” says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sectors at Genome BC. “The work at the BCCDC and PICNet serves as a model where the integration of genomics, clinical and outcome data will translate into clinical best practices.”

The Karsan project is valued at $2-million and was funded by Genome BC and the Provincial Health Services Authority. The Krajden project is valued at $400,000 with funding from Genome BC, the BCCDC, and PICNet. For more information on Genome BC’s funding programs, visit