EGCUT development plan 2015-2021
Approved by EGCUT board decision No. 1/39-2014 on 10 November 2014
Estonian Genome Center of the University of Tartu Development Plan for 2015-2021
The development plan for the Estonian Genome Center of the University of Tartu (EGCUT) for the period of 2015-2021 outlines the development goals of EGCUT for the next seven years and highlights the main directional activities to be undertaken to reach those goals. The development plan drafted was guided in particular by the statute of EGCUT, the current development plan for the University of Tartu together with its operational program and the Estonian Human Genes Research Act (HGRA) with its legislation.
II Vision and mission
The vision of EGCUT is to maintain its position as one of the leading genome centers in Europe that manages and develops the EGCUT’s database as well as conducts internationally competitive research and post-graduate education at different levels at the University of Tartu.
The mission of EGCUT is to promote and advance the development of genetic studies, gather the population’s health data and hereditary information, apply results of genetic studies for the improvement of public health, be the main force in the development of personalised medicine in Estonia as well as present EGCUT’s research worldwide.
Management and development of the genome bank
EGCUT keeps and manages the biobank, periodically renewing and updating health information as well as tissue samples, taking into account that the applicable time period of the current cohort consisting of 52,000 gene donors is between 25-30 years. Starting from the year 2011, the EGCUT database has been augmented by additional gene donors and health information using other, less intensive methods (analysis of databases and registries) instead of previously used ones (direct contact). Collaboration with other biobanks in Europe under the framework of BBMRI-ERIC is considered to be very important. Additionally, EGCUT has direct contacts with the German National Cohort and the Nordic Biobank Consortium. The social network of data collectors created during the first collection period (2002-2011) among family practitioners as well as hospitals will be maintained and utilized for occasional follow-up purposes, special projects and other similar occasions. EGCUT is part of a research infrastructure, and its informational enrichment is one of the main objectives for the coming development period. The goal is to create “gene cards” with DNA microchips for all gene donors and sequence at least 5,000 full genomes by 2020.
Providing feedback to gene donors
Over this period, arising from the Human Genome Research Act, EGCUT will ensure genetic counseling for gene donors who would like to receive feedback on their genetic and health risks. For that purpose, together with the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Tartu, EGCUT will create a continuing education program and carry out this continuing education program in order to prepare family practitioners and other appropriately qualified doctors for offering first-line genetic counseling in the future. The aforementioned activities are financed by various Ministries of the Republic of Estonia, the Estonian Research Council and the European Science Foundation as well as through various measures of the European Commission. The Estonian Government has included personalised medicine in its action plan as one of its priorities: “Orientation to personalized medicine based on genetic engineering” (Government of Republic Action Plan for 2014-2015).
Linking research with the development activities
EGCUT is the leading genome center in Estonia that is conducting internationally competitive research in collaboration with all interested institutions both locally and internationally. EGC as a founding member (founded by the Republic of Estonia, while the role is essentially fulfilled by EGCUT) of the BBMRI-ERIC European research infrastructure (the Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure that emerged from the ESFRI research project) continues to be a center identified for the Estonian Research Roadmap and is applying for the status of a center of excellence in research for the upcoming period. EGCUT has received institutional research funding (IUT topic), it fulfils or coordinates various EC Horizon 2020 projects and it continues collaboration with the Public Population Project in Genomics (P3G) international consortium of biobanks. Additionally, we have initiated cooperation with the Broad Institute (Boston, USA) and Vietnam. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed with both. Also, other cooperation agreements have been concluded (with India) or are being prepared for signing (with Kuwait and Kazakhstan).
EGCUT is actively participating in the research conducted in Europe by coordinating the provision of training in biobanking under the framework of the EC-funded BBMRI-LPC project. Research results are published in leading scientific journals, books and relevant internet publications. When qualified, intellectual property protection will be sought for new results. EGCUT research results are regularly presented at local and international conferences. On the initiative of EGCUT, the Estonian Health Insurance Fund has introduced two diagnostic methods (in the field of cytogenetics, DNA microchip analysis and in the field of medical genetics, exome sequencing for human DNA). For both testing methods, EGCUT has contracts with Tartu University Hospital.
Because EGCUT is a research and development centre of the University of Tartu with an essential infrastructure and high quality of research practices, the provision of post-graduate study programs is an integral part of its development. EGCUT is planning to further develop studies in the field, and in addition to three PhD programs (in English, with the participation of lecturers from abroad), it is planned to include optional and elective courses in the Master’s degree program in the future. EGCUT researchers actively contribute to biology and gene technology programs at the University of Tartu, teaching post-graduate students, conducting practical training sessions and seminars and giving lectures.
Strengthening the material base
EGCUT uses modern laboratory and office premises which are part of a new laboratory body at 23b Riia Street. Additionally, the body includes premises specially designed for EGCUT. Equipment of EGCUT’s core facility needs to be upgraded (new microchip readers, DNA sequencers, automatization of routine tasks, such as extraction of DNA, etc.). In terms of IT, it is planned to update the LIMS system and develop an automatic decision support software (for assessing health risks and treatment responses) for doctors and other medical professionals responsible for patient consultations. The server park needs to be upgraded and disc space expanded to 3,000 TB (currently 1,200 TB).
Ensuring the functionality of the organisation
EGCUT will continue to follow the standard of ISO 9001: 2008. EGCUT updates outdated IT solutions and ensures that the development of IT solutions continues at an appropriate pace. It creates new solutions which enable collected data and data to be collected to be stored securely, upgraded and utilized for research purposes as well as for practical healthcare applications. The database of EGCUT will be integrated with other national registries, the Electronic Health Record (e-Health Information System) and other appropriate databases when necessary for reaching its objectives. Using the results rising from research conducted by EGCUT, the genome center will start providing feedback to gene donors, thereby pioneering the introduction of personalised medicine in Estonia. The personalized medicine pilot project will be prepared so as to make it possible to start with its implementation in the second half of the year 2015.
EGCUT collaborates with the public and private sector, both nationally and internationally, including NGOs, foundations and other organisations, to fulfil its goals and tasks. The activities of EGCUT support the research and studies carried out in the fields of medicinae, socialia, humaniora and realia et naturalia as well as the application of its unique equipment and biobank for development purposes, concluding contracts with companies to this end. EGCUT will apply the results from the genetic studies for the improvement of overall public health. EGC as the Genome Center at the University of Tartu continues to operate as a research and development institution untied to a specific faculty. It is as a university-wide institution that it will be best able to serve the interests of various faculties and the university as a whole.
EGCUT popularizes the field of genetics, thus promoting the field of science overall by informing the public of new technologies and achievements in medical genetics via national and international training programs, conferences, information days and the internet. The goal is to raise the standards of science in Estonia in the fields of genomics, human genetics, genetic epidemiology, biobanking, biostatistics and other related specialties. Public opinion regarding EGCUT activities is studied periodically. Due to current efforts, the gene technology study program was the most popular program of the Science and Technology Faculty among applicants in 2014 (uptake rate 96%).
EGCUT’s structure includes a biobank, a core laboratory facility and a department consisting of three research groups: genomics, bioinformatics and statistics. In addition to those units, EGCUT also includes the administration group (director’s assistant, communications manager, contracts and assets administrator, EC contracts manager and a manager for other contracts).
The goals for the next seven years include increasing the share of employees with academic degrees to 50% and expanding the areas of specialization, for example by attracting specialists from abroad who have been specializing in areas lacking local specialists (genomics, genetic epidemiology, bioinformatics, biostatistics, human genetics, genetic counseling, etc.). Currently, four foreign specialists are working at EGCUT (from Finland, Holland, Singapore and the UK).
The aim of EGCUT is to raise the qualifications of its employees, promoting continuing education and retraining. Particular attention is paid to creating a healthy work environment, periodic health checks, and meeting occupational safety standards.
The development plan is a strategic document for EGCUT and serves as the foundation when preparing for annual activities and the associated budgets. The development plan and its implementation is the responsibility of the director of EGCUT. The EGCUT committee will review the implementation of the development plan annually in a sitting during the second quarter of the year and amend/update its current version as required, acting on the proposal of the director of EGCUT. The EGCUT international steering committee will review the management report as well as the report on the implementation of the development plan in a sitting held once every two years and provide suggestions regarding the specifications of the future development plan.