Professor Aedín Culhane, Professor of Cancer Genomics at University of Limerick and director of the Limerick Digital Cancer Research Centre
Friday, November 18, 2022

University of Limerick is to play a significant role in a European project that will support the integration of genomics into healthcare and advance new treatments for patients.

The University, through Professor Aedín Culhane, Professor of Cancer Genomics at University of Limerick and director of the Limerick Digital Cancer Research Centre, is to partner with RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, FutureNeuro and University College Dublin, on the Irish element of a new EU project.

Jointly funded by the European Commission, under the Digital Europe Programme, and the Health Research Board (HRB), Genomic Data Infrastructure (GDI) Ireland is part of a consortium of 20 EU Member States with the goal of enabling access to genomics and corresponding clinical data across Europe by creating secure data infrastructure.

The project will facilitate a cross-border federated network of national genome collections for biomedical research and personalised medicine solutions.

Professor Aedín Culhane explained that this project has the potential to provide countless future benefits to health.

“It will provide access to EU clinical genomics data. This is especially important for rare genetic diseases in small countries like Ireland. Access to larger pools of data will help doctors understand disease and make informed decisions on the best treatments for patients,” Professor Culhane explained.

Limerick will host the computer infrastructure for secure data sharing with EU members states, using the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health standard for secure sharing of genomics data, Professor Culhane explained.

GDI Ireland National Co-Lead, Professor Gianpiero Cavalleri, Professor of Human Genetics at RCSI and Deputy Director of the SFI FutureNeuro Research Centre said: “By realising this federated analysis system we will enable Irish genomes to be safely and securely analysed alongside similar datasets from other European countries. Such infrastructure can accelerate the discovery of genetic causes of disease and inform the development of much needed treatments for conditions such as cancer that can have a devastating impact on our lives.”

The Irish GDI hub will establish best practice to manage the Irish genetic data, protecting the security of the personal data contributed by individuals. Work will be informed by the experience and technology developed by European partners.

The GDI project positions Ireland to participate in the ambitious Europe wide ‘1+ Million Genomes’ initiative, which is driving the development, deployment, and operation of sustainable data-access infrastructures within each participating country.

Commenting on the announcement, Dr Mairead O’Driscoll, Chief Executive of the Health Research Board, said: “The GDI project brings together national agencies, research organisations, technology providers and patient organisations in 20 countries. The overarching goal is to design, develop and operationalise a cross-border federated network of national genome collections and other relevant data to advance data-driven personalised medicine for the benefit of European citizens.

“Ireland’s participation in this project will see our researchers, clinicians, patient representatives, experts in data governance, data analysts and others collaborating on a roadmap for data infrastructure in Ireland and conducting proof-of-concept work using synthetic data.”

Professor Gianpiero Cavalleri (School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, RCSI) and Professor Denis Shields, (University College Dublin), are Co-Directors of the GDI Ireland project with Professor Aedín Culhane (University Limerick) and Professor Markus Helfert (Maynooth University and SFI Empower SPOKE Director) as co-applicants.

The team will be supported by the SFI Centre for Research Training in Genomics Data Science, the Irish Platform for Patient Organisations and Industry (IPPOSI) and Health Research Charities Ireland (HRCI).

Serena Scollen, the European GDI Coordinator also emphasised the importance of having an infrastructure for genomic data and commented “countries will be able to deploy infrastructure to facilitate secure cross-border data access. Ultimately the benefit will be for the citizens of Europe and through shared learnings and improved healthcare, citizens globally.’

For further information on the project visit: https://gdi.onemilliongenomes.eu.