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Teaser, summary, work performed and final results

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TransGeno (The ERA Chair for Translational Genomics and Personalized Medicine)


Estonia\'s leading research institution, the University of Tartu is prevented from reaching the next level of scientific excellence and international competitiveness due to its inability to attract and retain top level researchers which limits its competitiveness in...


Estonia\'s leading research institution, the University of Tartu is prevented from reaching the next level of scientific excellence and international competitiveness due to its inability to attract and retain top level researchers which limits its competitiveness in international research funding. TransGeno will address this by significantly increasing the research excellence of UT in the fields of translational genomics and personalized medicine. It will do so by recruiting an expert to serve as the ERA Chair for Translational Genomics and Personalized Medicine, who will initiate needed structural changes and create a top level research team. By doing so, we will improve the research and innovation performance of UT and pursue cutting edge research that would create direct and significant benefits for our institution, Estonia and Europe. In addition to the national impact the project will have, the related fields of translational genomics and personalized medicine can have a significant impact on European and global society. Translational genomics research combines genetics data with diagnostics, prognostics and therapies for cancer, neurological disorders, diabetes and other complex diseases. It can enable scientists to understand the genetic components of common and complex diseases, which could lead to a shift in clinical practice from treatment based on symptoms to treatment based on the underlying causes of disease. Through translational genomics, researchers are able to analyze variations in human genes to discover the underlying cause of disease progression and resistance to therapy, as well as to understand why some individuals encounter debilitating diseases while others live healthy lives. Translational genomics research in turn can lead to the development of personalized medicine, which is the tailoring of medical treatment to patients by classifying them into subpopulations based upon their susceptibility to a disease or a response to a specific treatment. Personalized medicine reaches beyond a core of targeted therapeutics and diagnostics to encompass personal health record management, disease management, wellness and nutrition. Translational genomics and personalized medicine can lead to the early treatment of diseases and in the most ideal scenarios, would enable medical providers to treat patients before the onset of the disease.
Specific objectives include:
-To initiate the structural changes required to establish the ERA Chair within the University
-To recruit and hire a high level researcher who will recruit a team of researchers with expertise needed to conduct top level research.
-To increase the number of successful research applications for funding in translational genomics and related fields of clinical genomics and personalized medicine;
-To increase the number of peer-reviewed articles in translational genomics and related fields in which UT staff serve as lead authors/investigators;
-To produce knowledge and tools that could potentially be used to develop a wide range of (commercial) products such as databases and integrative analytical platforms that link genomic transcriptomic and metabolomics data from human and animal samples
-To raise awareness and support for translational genomics and personal medicine in the general public, the business sector and among policy-makers.

Work performed

A Project Manager and Project Assistant were hired to carry out management and administrative tasks on a day-to-day basis. Secure internal systems were established for the storage and tracking of all documents common to the project. Other management tasks were carried out including financial management, external dissemination of the project in local and national media and communication with the EC project officers. An initial communication plan was created for the project. Other programme requirements such as reporting of UT’s relevant UT publications was reported. UT carried out the recruitment and selection process in accordance with Estonian Law and the EU Code of Conduct for the recruitment of researchers. Eventually, the ERA Chair, Alireza Fazeli was selected and began work immediately, in reviewing the ethical, administrative, scientific and other aspects of the project. Efforts to orientate him to the University systems as quickly as possible also took place, such as setting up meetings with key staff from different units and receiving tours of relevant facilities. Other physical scientific infrastructure was established as well, such as procurement of key pieces of equipment needed by the ERA Chair. Automated metabolic cages with environmental chambers for precise monitoring of metabolic activity in animal studies were purchased and installed. A draft Data Management Plan for the project was created and systems were established for data collection and processing. A key set of activities focused on the creation of the ethical framework for the project to ensure compliance with EC requirements. This is vital, as the work plan of TransGeno is very complex, involving research with experimental animals and human subjects. We applied for approval to conduct specific animal experiments planned in the project and we received it. For human studies, we applied for approval from the institutional committee. In addition, to make sample collection efficient and to preserve time, we set up a wider sample collection system for remnant blood samples from several UT clinics, including compliance with all ethical requirements. This system will greatly assist the ERA Chair in his research efforts. We also set up the workflow needed to obtain fresh tissue samples for cell culture models and in vitro experiments. The reliability of the workflow was tested and reviewed by the ERA Chair. Furthermore, all 22 ethical requirements due within the first year were submitted on time. Efforts have already begun to try and establish sustainability for the project, as the ERA Chair has identified the European Joint Doctorate Programme as a potential funding source that would enable UT to generate revenue, improve its PHD offerings, attract high level early stage researchers and establish strong collaborative relationships with other universities. For these reasons, efforts begun to submit a proposal in the next round. After he was hired, the ERA Chair also contributed valuable input into three stage 1 H2020 proposals that were being prepared under the personalised medicine call.

Final results

The activities described above all contribute in different ways to the 5 key impacts that are anticipated for the TransGeno Project:
1. Increased attractiveness of the institution, region and country for internationally excellent and mobile researchers
2. Increased research excellence of the institution in the Translational Genomics, in particular linking animal models with human clinical data.
3. Improved capability to compete successfully for internationally competitive research funding
4. Institutional changes within the ERA host institution to implement the European Research Area priorities (including open recruitment policy, gender balance, peer review, and doctoral training)
5. Contributing to the objectives of regional or national smart specialization strategies, including increased interactions with economic and social actions, and complementing support provided under the European Structural and Investment Funds

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