UQ gene expert joins global company

16 Apr 2014

The world’s largest genomics company, Illumina Inc., has chosen a researcher from The University of Queensland (UQ) to join as Director of Scientific Research.

Dr Ryan Taft, from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), will this month start with the billion-dollar global company based in San Diego.

Dr Taft, who will maintain a joint appointment at UQ, said human genome sequencing is revolutionising medicine - enabling researchers around the world to identify valuable genetic information that could be used to help diagnose, manage and treat disease.

“These discoveries are ushering in an era of truly personalised medicine, where diagnoses and treatments will be based on an individual’s genetic information,” Dr Taft said.

“One of my roles at Illumina will be to help build the scientific and diagnostic community networks that will aid scientists in analysing a genome quickly and identifying disease-causing mutations. 

“My hope is that one day soon these approaches will be used to determine the best care possible for a patient.”

Dr Taft, who is from San Diego originally, completed his PhD at IMB and has been leading a laboratory focused on identifying the genetic causes of rare diseases.

In collaboration with a worldwide team, he identified a new disease, HSBL, and the gene responsible, a discovery that provided a diagnosis for Melbourne boy Massimo Damiani and was profiled on Australian Story.

Dr Taft said his time at UQ, both as a student and a researcher, gave him the platform to reach out to a global community of experts and ultimately secure a position at one of the world’s leading life sciences companies.

“When I started my PhD at IMB, there weren’t many places in the world that were so focused on genomics and computational biology,” Dr Taft said.

“My PhD gave me the foundational tools, and helped me develop a powerful way of thinking about problems that has allowed me to ask and answer any number of questions.

“As I moved into a postdoctoral position, and then into leading my own laboratory, the IMB allowed me to make connections that I wouldn’t have been able to make otherwise, which led to this amazing opportunity.”

Dr Taft said his joint appointment with UQ meant he would retain a strong connection with the university and Australia.

“I think Australia is an ideal place to pilot these technologies because it has world-leading genomics expertise, a well-educated and well-resourced society, a centralised medical system and a small population. Australia should aim to be a world leader in this space,” he said.

“Both Illumina and I are eager to continue the work I have begun in Australia and look for opportunities for improving the health of this nation’s population through personalised medicine.”

The Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) is a research institute of The University of Queensland that aims to improve quality of life by advancing medical genomics, drug discovery and biotechnology.

Media contact: IMB Communications Manager Bronwyn Adams, 0418 575 247, 07 3346 2134, b.adams@imb.uq.edu.au