Illumina partners with Melbourne to conduct genomics research

The Victorian Government, global genomics company Illumina and the University of Melbourne have partnered to establish the Illumina-University of Melbourne Genomics Hub. Its goal is to use genomics research to develop personalised treatments for diseases such as cancer.

Personalised medicine helps doctors choose the best treatment for each individual. It relies on rapid gene sequencing and genomics – the study of the whole genome. This is the complete set of genetic information that determines a person’s physical makeup, including their susceptibility to some diseases and their response to treatment.

Illumina designs and manufactures genome sequencing technology. Its products include instruments, reagents and software. The company’s headquarters are in San Diego, California.

The Illumina-University of Melbourne Genomics Hub is starting with two flagship research projects. The Cancer Liquid Biopsy project aims to develop genomics tools to improve cancer diagnosis and monitoring. Researchers at the University’s Centre for Cancer Research, led by Professor Sean Grimmond, will test whether rapid sequencing of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) in the blood can be used to detect and track cancer.

Tumours release ctDNA, and levels increase as the disease progresses. Taking blood samples is less invasive than tissue biopsies. It could also be cheaper and more effective than traditional screening approaches.

The second project, ID Predict, aims to understand why people respond differently to SARS-CoV2 and other viruses. Researchers will use genomics to study how people with COVID-19 respond to infection and treatment. This project is led by Professor Sammy Bedoui at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. It also involves researchers from WEHI.

The partnership between Illumina and the University also includes the Cancer of Low Survival and Unmet Need Initiative, which began in February 2020. A team of researchers led by Professor Grimmond will analyse the genomes of 1000 people with cancer over three years. They are looking for gene mutations that might be linked to the disease.

This could help doctors to match treatments to the genomic makeup of a person’s tumour, instead of using the standard treatment provided to all patients with that cancer type. The project is targeting cancers that are rare, aggressive, difficult to diagnose or resistant to standard treatments.

The Illumina-University of Melbourne Genomics Hub will be based in the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct. This will foster collaborations with industry, hospitals and research institutes.

For more information on the partnership, the Hub or its activities, email

Image: Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

Banner image: An artistic representation of a gene sequence (acrylic paint on polyester taffeta).

First published on 4 December 2020.

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