We always knew genomics would have a positive impact on healthcare, but as we were dreaming about tailored therapies, targeted cancer treatments, and preventive medicine based on known susceptibilities, there was one area we didn’t think about: HLA typing. It’s a slice of the medical field that recently adopted next-gen sequencing and is already seeing great results.
HLA (human leukocyte antigen) typing has been around for decades. It’s the science of using specific variants in these proteins, which regulate the immune response and vary considerably from person to person, to find the ideal match for an organ or bone marrow transplant. HLA is produced by the histocompatibility locus, a highly polymorphic stretch of the genome.
As the proteins have become better understood, scientists have added more markers to the process of determining a good match. Today clinicians will review eight to 10 markers in each donor and each patient before calculating the likelihood of a positive transplant outcome.
There is massive demand for HLA typing, which means it needs to be affordable, high-throughput, and incredibly accurate — a natural fit for NGS technologies. We’re glad to see that in recent years, well-established HLA labs around the world have begun to adopt NGS platforms for their typing pipelines with demonstrated success. As these technologies become more commonplace in the HLA community, we hope to see more accurate results that make organ transplantation safer and more successful.