News & stories, Genexus System Next-Generation Sequencing

April 2023

More Tests. Less Time. Faster Results for Patients

You’ll rarely see our hospital’s laboratory team. But their work will save your life.

Tucked away on the second floor of the Saint John Regional Hospital, a team of dedicated laboratory staff works tirelessly. You may have had a blood sample taken, or maybe even a biopsy… Our laboratory runs more than 4 million tests a year of samples collected from patients and prepares the results so physicians can determine the best treatment.

Genexus System Next-Generation Sequencing
The Genexus platform will allow for greater accuracy in testing and free up more time for laboratory staff to focus on other tests, expanding the capacity of offerings from the medical lab.

These behind the scenes healthcare professionals play a crucial role in our hospital. Physicians count on our lab to provide accurate and timely results to patients. And the results play an essential part in diagnosing and treating illness, as well as preventing disease.

And, as you can imagine, even though it’s tucked away behind closed doors, our hospital laboratory is a bustling and busy place.

So, having access to the state-of-the-art equipment that will help our laboratory team get more done in less time is something that will benefit all of us.

Introducing The Genexus System: Next-Gen DNA Sequencer

Thanks to incredibly caring donors, our laboratory has a brand new Genexus Next-Generation DNA Sequencing Machine. This remarkable tool is like a second set of hands for our laboratory team. It saves time and improves accuracy by doing many of the manual tasks associated with sample testing.

Faster, more accurate results. In less time.

“The tests we perform here in our lab are very complex,” said Dr. Doha Itani, Division Head of the Molecular Diagnostics and Cytogenetics Laboratory at Horizon’s Saint John Regional Hospital. “These complicated tests can require a lot of hands-on time.”


And when it comes to processing patient samples, every minute of laboratory technologists’ time is vital. That’s why having a specialized robot like the Genexus machine in our laboratory is so exciting.

“With the Genexus, a test that used to take our technologists three to five days of work will shrink down to one or two days—that’s about 40 minutes of hands-on time, and then about 24 hours for the machine to do its work,” Dr. Itani added. “While the machine is running, our technologists can work on other things. They didn’t have that flexibility before.”

That means patients will get results sooner—often in the span of days instead of weeks. Faster results will lead to quicker treatments. And as you know, the more quickly doctors can treat disease, the better the chance a patient will respond or recover.

The Genexus machine can also run multiple groups of tests (called a panel) and different sizes of panels at the same time. It evaluates more genes than what was available in our previous panel and provides much more sensitive and accurate results.

Dr Doha Itani Division Head of the Molecular Diagnostics and Cytogenetics Laboratory
Dr Doha Itani Division Head of the Molecular Diagnostics and Cytogenetics Laboratory

The flexibility of the Genexus system also allows technologists to process multiple types of tests much more efficiently compared to the previous instrument.

“With the previous DNA sequencing technology, we had to wait for a certain number of the same types of samples so we could run them at the same time,” Dr. Itani explained. “Now, with the Genexus machine, we can run eight samples and each of them could be a different test. I’m really excited about how flexible and efficient this system is.”

Research and innovation—right here at our lab

Another benefit of the Genexus system is technologists are freed up to work on developing new tests and expand the services and expertise available locally. The Genexus machine is really a game-changer for us,” said Tiffany Clouston, Clinical Specialist at Horizon’s Saint John Regional Hospital. “It frees up lab time to work on other projects clinicians have asked for. As an example, we’ve been asked to develop new methods and new tests and we've had to say no in the past because we don't have capacity for growth with the number of staff that we have right now. But this technology will hopefully give us more freedom to offer a larger array of tests and more services to our region.”

“The HLA-B27 is a good example of a test we’ll be adding to our molecular test menu,” said Emily Bodechon, Lab Administrative Director, Saint John Area. “HLA-B27 is a protein that is found on the surface of white blood cells. Our lab analyzes the genes that are responsible for the production of these important proteins. This protein helps the body’s immune system tell the difference between its own cells and foreign, harmful substances. HLA’s were being done by a different lab division using a special reagent kit, but the company that provides the kit discontinued the production. Thanks to the Genexus platform, and the time it saves us, we can now perform this test in our Molecular lab instead of sending the samples out of province to a third-party lab.”

“I'm really excited that we can bring this state-of-the-art technology into our little corner of the country and that we can provide the best care to the people of this province,” Bodechon added.

Getting personal: the human genome and DNA sequencing

The human genome is like a blueprint that contains all the information needed to build a human body. It's made up of DNA which is like a four-letter language that contains instructions for making proteins. Proteins are large, complex molecules that play many critical roles in the body. They do most of the work in cells and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. For example, they help to transport molecules throughout the body, speed up chemical reactions, and provide structural support.

“The human genome is what dictates everything about us,” explained Clouston. “The Genexus can write down the letters and the order of those letters in DNA. It can tell us the patient’s genetic code so we can look at genes that cause diseases like leukemias, for example. And we can look for variations or abnormalities in that code, just like we look at spelling mistakes. Maybe something should read CTG in a healthy person, but with the Genexus, we can look at a patient’s genetic code and maybe discover it says ATG and that change is causing a certain kind of leukemia.”

DNA with text5

“So, with that information, we can tell the physician exactly what's causing the disease and sometimes, depending on what the variant is, we can actually suggest which drug may fix the problem,” Clouston added. We call that personalized medicine and that's what is exciting about the Genexus—we can give physicians insight and direction into the disease of the patients they’re treating.”

Understanding your genetic make-up helps physicians figure out how your body will react to treatments like chemotherapy, for example. “Sometimes you can look at certain types of genes and you can determine whether the patient will respond to a particular type of treatment or whether they need lower or higher doses of that treatment This is called Pharmacogenomics,” Dr. Itani explained.

For some cancer, based on the DNA code, the corresponding proteins can be treated with targeted therapy. Targeted therapy means that the drug only goes to that tumor in the body instead of going to all the sites in the body like chemotherapy does. Targeted therapy only targets the tumor that has that particular mutation and spares the normal tissue which does not have the mutation. The Genexus technology will help us identify patients that will benefit from targeted treatments much quicker. And that might mean better outcomes and faster recoveries.

Attracting and retaining talented medical professionals

Access to up-to-date technology is one of the main criteria people who specialize in advanced complex lab divisions look for when taking a job.

People who are interested in advancing their careers want to work in a lab with advanced technology on par with other centres around the world. The Genexus platform is one of those technologies.

"I moved to New Brunswick two years ago because of the setup of this very comprehensive molecular genetics lab, I was looking for a lab that can evaluate many different types of samples, and that is very cutting edge. The setup of our lab here at the Saint John Regional Hospital is what attracted me to come to New Brunswick."

-Dr. Itani

“I interviewed during COVID,” Dr. Itani continued. “I had no idea what Saint John would look like, but I thought the lab was fantastic. So, I decided to come and try it for a year… and now I don't want to leave! Having an advanced lab is very attractive because it is a very advanced, complex subspecialty, and people in this type of field like to push themselves.”

Opportunities for professional development and personal growth

Less time spent on manual tasks means more time for staff education and professional growth. This is true for those in directorship and managerial level positions as well as the technologist level.

“Freeing up some of a technologist’s time provides opportunities to offer enhanced scientific and subject matter training which will help them pursue higher education levels and meet career goals. If we can give them a little bit of time during the day to learn in depth about the science that they are dealing with physically on the bench, it will go a long way to increasing their job satisfaction. It’s important that we help our staff grow spiritually and pursue further opportunities that will help them advance their careers,” Dr. Itani said.

Renata Yehia, acting supervisor in Molecular Diagnostics and Cytogenetics loading panels into the Genexus machine to prepare for a run of tests.
Renata Yehia, acting supervisor in Molecular Diagnostics and Cytogenetics loading panels into the Genexus machine to prepare for a run of tests.

And none of this would be possible without loyal and caring people like you.

Donor generosity continues to fuel innovation at the Saint John Regional Hospital, which clinicians and staff, like those in the lab, are so grateful for.

“To all our thoughtful donors, first of all, thank you. Your generosity makes a huge difference for patients. You never know who's going to need the testing that we're offering. You don't realize how much you depend on the lab until you or a loved one needs it. Because of your kind donations, we can give the highest quality of patient care that's possible,”says Clouston.

Bodechon echoes the sentiment, as she is profoundly thankful for the continued support their team receives from donors.

“Thank you to all our caring donors for your generosity. Staying up to date with the most current technology is really expensive. And as a public funded healthcare system, there’s only so much money to go around. So, when people have the ability and the desire to make donations to make a difference, it’s so meaningful. We don't take it lightly and we appreciate it so very much,” says Bodechon.

Your gifts have a lasting impact on healthcare, not only for today, but for the future.

“Your donations not only gave us the Genexus machine and all its benefits, there’s also a ripple effect created by your kindness. You’ve helped us expand our portfolio to better serve patients by doing more testing in-house. Every time we send a test to an outside lab, there’s three to five days of transportation for the specimen to get there. It’s a lot of work to package a specimen carefully so it doesn't break on the road. A lot of care has to be taken to keep an accurate chain of custody of the sample. This all takes time and results in delays to patient care. But thanks to your gifts, we can now perform more testing right here in our lab, and that means better outcomes for patients and their loved ones. Thank you,” says Dr. Doha Itani.

Have a story to share?