A Conversation with Jenny Xiang, M.D.

Jenny Zhaoying Xiang, M.D., is a Member of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine, Director of the Genomics Resources Core Facility (GRCF), Professor of Research in Microbiology and Immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine, and a faculty member of Weill Graduate School of Medical Sciences.

As its founding Director, Dr. Xiang has led the GRCF since 2000 and provides state-of-the-art services in genomics and related high throughput technologies to the basic and translational research and clinical communities at WCM, Cornell University, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, the Hospital for Special Surgery, and external collaborators.

The full-range and high-quality of the Next Generation Sequencing services include experimental design, sample manipulation, instrumentation, data analyses/interpretation, and validation have played a key role in assisting a large number of researchers and clinicians to generate high-level scientific publications, secure their research funding, and develop precision cancer care.

You have served as Director of the Genomics Resources Core Facility since 2000. How has the science and technology evolved since then? 

Since joining WCM in 2000, I have witnessed the growth of genomics technologies from its infant, toddler and teenage years, now to its adulthood. This is a highly dynamic and rapidly evolving field, and it’s been an honor to work with engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians together with biologists and medical doctors to develop novel technologies and analytical tools

We have sequenced hundreds of thousands of samples from human, mouse, rat, bacteria, fungus, and fruits to meet the wide-ranging needs of our community. With the genomics technology evolving and throughput increasing, the cost of sequencing a human genome started to free-fall, from more than $10,000 to less than $2,000. However, genomics instruments are evolving quickly, remain very expensive, and need to be replaced every 2-3 years.

How does all of this technology benefit patients?

The state-of-the-art genomics technologies are empowering scientists and clinicians to understand cancers at unprecedented levels of molecular detail, which then helps to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment with unparalleled precision and efficacy. It’s rewarding to see genomics technology enter the clinical practice. Genome sequencing and data analysis are essential components of the new precision medicine paradigm, delivering customized diagnosis and treatment to patients. So far, oncology research has benefited greatly through sequencing genomes of thousands of cases for all major cancer types.

What should patients know about genomics research?

Patients should know that genomics research is one-step ahead of conventional medical care and services. It provides the essential scientific background and knowledge for more precise personalized diagnosis and treatment to patients.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I really enjoy working with the students. Since 2003, I have been the course director of the Genomics Workshop for the Master’s program in Clinical Investigation. The students are taught the details of genomics technologies, assays, methods and applications. Interestingly, many of the students who took this course later became our customers.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work? 

The most rewarding aspect of our work is knowing that patients directly benefit from our efforts to obtain more accurate diagnosis and better therapy. It’s also satisfying to know that our research has led to new discoveries, received more funding, and published high-impact papers based on data derived from the use of our genomics services.

Where do you see the field of genomics research moving in the future? 

Genomics is a highly dynamic field; scientists are working to develop more sophisticated sequencers (longer reads with low error rates), more effective assays and faster experimental methods to overcome the pitfalls in the current genomics instrumentation and reagents. Another effort is to establish an interactive system for sequencing data acquisition, storage, distribution and analysis.

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