PoreLab, or how to use disruptive new DNA sequencing technology

Soon Leiden Bio Science Park will feature a new laboratory using the latest nanopore technology for DNA analysis: PoreLab. Dedicated to discovering what new applications nanopore technology will bring us and what to do with the huge amounts of data it will generate.

Christiaan Henkel, lector bioinformatics at Generade and co-founder of the lab: "At PoreLab we will make the latest technology accessible to companies and education by offering expert support."

Why PoreLab?

"Advances in genomics are moving rapidly. The portable and inexpensive nanopore technology will revolutionize genomics within a few years. Twenty-five years after the conception of its underlying principle on paper, Oxford Nanopore has developed the MinION. A pocket-sized device that will soon allow anyone to analyze DNA everywhere.
Consequently, we will have huge amounts of data at our disposal. We already came up with so many ideas, now we can put them into practice. Such as investigating why a hospital bug is resistant, determining the whole genome of the tulip and finding out how Dutch athletes can perform at their best."
"At PoreLab - the new lab dedicated to this disruptive sequencing technology - researchers, students and SMEs will be jointly involved in innovative research using the MinION. We will disseminate the new approaches derived from this research in courses at PoreLab. "

What is the future outlook?

"Ubiquitous genomics - the ability to measure and edit DNA everywhere in real-time. Currently this new technology is mostly interesting for specialists in this discipline, but in five years you will probably be able to buy a gadget that allows you to analyze DNA on your mobile phone. A GP may be able to determine quickly whether a patient has a particular infection. And consumers at the supermarket may check on the spot whether a product comes from a particular region.
For life sciences companies there is a huge opportunity if they quickly adapt in, for example, providing fast and high quality data analyses. At PoreLab we aim to be in the front row of these developments in genomics. "

What is your personal involvement?

"I am interested in the evolution and functioning of genomes. I have done research on the genomes of fish and snakes, and into the genomic diversity of Agrobacterium. As Generade lector, where I research the genomes of tulips, I receive many specific questions from the business community. PoreLab will stimulate companies in jointly finding innovative data solutions. For instance, by providing one-week courses where people can bring their own samples. Personally, I hope that the MinION will advance my work on organisms that are still poorly understood. For example, by being able to read the gigantic tulip genome."

PoreLab is initiated by Generade, a consortium consisting of biotech company BaseClear, Hogeschool Leiden (the Leiden University of Applied Sciences), the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC), Naturalis and Leiden University, in collaboration with ZF-screens and fourteen SME-partners.

PoreLab will start this month with sixteen pilot projects. For more information please mail to Christiaan Henkel: henkel@generade.nl

Interview by Rozemarijn van der Vooren
Photographer: Frank Hoyinck