Next-Generation Technology Propels Genomics Research to New Level at Hussman Institute
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine leadership, staff, supporters and members of the media gathered at the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics on Monday for the unveiling of the Institute’s new state-of-the-art biorepository system.
The custom-built Brooks Life Science Systems A3+ SmaRTStore is a 9,000-pound automated storage and retrieval system that has the capacity to hold up to 500,000 DNA samples and can sort and plate those samples automatically using a barcode indexing system.
Talking above the steady hum of secure, temperature-controlled storage devices in the Institute’s 4,000-square-foot biorepository sample bank, Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., recounted that he and Margaret Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Human Genomics Programs and Director of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, had a “robot” on their wish list since before the Institute was established in 2007.
“Thanks to the generosity of Dr. John P. Hussman and the foundation which shares his name, we not only have that robot, but one of only 10 such systems in the world,” Goldschmidt said.
The automated technology allows researchers like Pericak-Vance to cut production time for many research-based tasks from days or weeks down to just hours.
“With 75 current ongoing studies, this system puts the Hussman Institute at the forefront of genetic research in lifesaving areas like multiple sclerosis, ALS, and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few,” said Pericak-Vance. “For Alzheimer’s studies alone, we use up to 8,000 samples for each study. Up until now, a lab assistant or researcher would have to gather and plate each of those samples by hand, which could take weeks to do. Now the prep work is done overnight and with pinpoint accuracy. This technology makes it possible for us to do large-scale studies that will position us as the premiere genomic research facility in the region — if not the nation.”
As Director of the Hussman Institute’s Biorepository Core, Jacob McCauley, Ph.D., announced that he was the most excited about the acquisition of the new system. “Construction of the machine started back in 2010,” McCauley recalled. “This is a game-changer for us and for collaboration across divisions here at the Miller School of Medicine and with other research facilities and universities around the world.”
The system, which can store up to a half million genetic samples, including DNA, quadruples the Institute’s storage capacity, which currently holds an already-impressive 128,000 DNA samples from 120,000 individuals.
“Of all of the Miller School’s accomplishments since I became Dean, this is one of the proudest,” said Goldschmidt. “The work going on here to advance medicine and science to find cures to diseases that affect so many people is truly astounding. We specifically selected this system because it positions the Hussman Institute for continued growth and research expansion. It’s a solid testament to our commitment to genetics and genomics research, and it’s worth our investment.”