BRUSSELS, Belgium -- After claiming in March it brought the cost of sequencing a human genome to $1,000, Illumina Inc. has set its sights on a consumer product. The company aims to deliver a chip that plugs into a smartphone, bringing genetic medicine to the individual.
The smartphone will become "a molecular stethoscope," said Mostafa Ronaghi, Illumina's chief technology officer, speaking at the Imec Tech Forum here. "We will not need a primary doctor in the future, you will get tested [at home or in a clinic] and go directly to a specialist -- I believe it will happen in five to seven years," Ronaghi predicted.
Researchers at Illumina are already working on pieces of the solution. Finding biocompatible interfaces between "wet and dry science" is one of the biggest challenges, he said, noting some applications require as much as 10 milliliters of blood.
Separately, the team is still evaluating electrical, optical, and other means for on-chip genomic detection. Extracting and processing genomic data can take as many as 30 steps, he said.
So far, Illumina has demonstrated digital microfluidics on silicon with the help of researchers from the CEA-Leti. Illumina hopes to launch in July devices that can assay as many as 16 samples in silicon, using technology it acquired, he added.
Another issue is handling cloud connectivity given some uses generate as much as a 100 Gbytes of data. Some researchers are basing efforts on proteins -- which would generate much more data -- but Ronaghi believes most work will focus on nucleic acids. "We are focused on genomics and feel most questions can be answered by genomics," he said.
Costs of sequencing the human genome plummeted from $100 million at the turn of the century to $1M in 2008 to $1,000 in March 2014, according to Illumina.
Although it's still early days for genomics, costs and lives are being saved applying the technology to cancer treatments and pregnancy care, he said. Today about $12 billion of the estimated $20 genomics industry is in oncology, he said. The next biggest slice is $5 billion in systems for researchers, followed by a rapidly growing $2 billion segment in reproductive health and $1 billion in other emerging applications.
Illumina is one of the leaders in genomics, said an Imec researcher following the field. In its last financial quarter, the company generated $421 million in revenues and $60 million in profits for sales of its family of sequencing systems.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times