Jingyue Ju | Creating Personalized DNA Chips for Everybody

Genes play an important role in nearly every disease—a major reason why scientists spent $1 billion sequencing the entire DNA of one individual for the Human Genome Project. This astronomical cost of decoding the code of life makes mapping the three billion base pairs of DNA in each person seem like a pipe dream. However, advances in science and engineering made by Columbia scientists should make this dream come true in the near future.

Jingyue Ju and his team are developing revolutionary technologies to dramatically reduce the cost of DNA sequencing so that each person’s genome can be routinely decoded on a chip the size of a credit card for just $1,000. Ju co-invented the fluorescent labeling technology that made the Human Genome Project possible. The new sequencing technology uses different colors of fluorescent dyes to label the four letters of the genetic alphabet for decoding on a chip.

Such a chip should be possible in a few years, said Ju, who directs the Center for Genome Technology and Biomolecular Engineering at Columbia and who collaborates with a group of interdisciplinary scientists including chemistry professor Nicholas Turro on this research. Working with Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel and Professor Ian Lipkin at the Columbia University Medical Center, Ju and his team are using the new genome technologies to study the genetic networks for long-term memory, and to rapidly and accurately detect pathogens.

In the future, every newborn could get his entire genome sequenced on a tiny chip. With this information, doctors could easily look up each person’s genetic predisposition to various diseases and could tailor their medical advice. This technology would help doctors better prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases based on each person’s genetic profile. It would also make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to develop personalized drugs for diseases like depression and breast cancer.

Drugs for anti-depression, for example, currently only work in about half the patients. With personalized gene chips, doctors would know in advance which drugs would work (and not work) for each patient.

The National Institutes of Health has supported Ju with a three-year, $1.8 million grant for his proposal, “Single Molecule DNA Sequencing by Fluorescent Nucleotide Terminators.” His project aims to sequence a human genome with high accuracy and speed at a low cost, an achievement that would be critical to the emerging field of personalized medicine.

B.S., Inner Mongolia University, 1985; M.S., Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1988; Ph.D., University of Southern California, 1993

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