UNM Rainforest Innovations

Harnessing his knowledge of biology, chemistry, and engineering, Dr. Edwards drives science forward through his research activity and innovative technologies. During his graduate work, he was the first person to take genome sequence information and develop predictive mathematical models of bacteria metabolism. Around this time, it cost approximately $1 million to sequence the genome of a bacteria and $1 billion to sequence a human genome. The work accomplished by Jeremy and others has substantially reduced the cost of sequencing a human genome down to just a few hundred dollars. DNA sequencing technology has the potential to significantly and substantially impact health care, both directly by providing diagnostic and prognostic markers for the clinical setting, and indirectly by accelerating the pace of basic and clinical biomedical research.

Dr. Edwards received his Ph.D. in bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego, and completed postdoctoral training in genetics and genomics at Harvard Medical School. In 2003, he accepted a tenure track position in chemical engineering at the University of Delaware where he served as an Endowed Outstanding Named Professor of Engineering. Born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he returned in 2005 and has since been a member of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center and is now a Distinguished Professor and Chair in the Chemistry & Chemical Biology Department.

Dr. Edwards holds awards for teaching and research; has authored 48 peer-reviewed articles and reviews with over 12,000 citations and an h-index of 39; and while at UNM he has disclosed 16 technologies, received 10 U.S. issued patents and has 4 pending patents. Dr. Edwards in an elected fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and has received two DuPont Research Awards.

An Innovator’s Journey

Dr. Jeremy Edwards was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and most of his family is still local. Growing up, he was always interested in biology and medicine, but he excelled at math and physics. After graduating from Albuquerque High School in 1990, he traveled to the University of Texas, Arlington (UTA), to study Mechanical Engineering. Soon after he would first discover biomedical engineering, and although UTA didn’t have an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering, Jeremy took additional biology and chemistry courses to prepare him for graduate school in biomedical engineering.

He chose to attend graduate school at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), because of their bioengineering department and their faculty’s world-leading expertise in the field. At the time, bioengineering was not a common discipline on university campuses and one of the founding members of biomechanics, Dr. Yuang-Cheng “Bert” Fung, joined the UCSD faculty when courses and even textbooks in the field had yet to be developed. Dr. Fung helped form the bioengineering program at UCSD and helped establish bioengineering as the important discipline it is today. During Jeremy’s undergraduate studies at UTA, he even used one of Dr. Fung’s textbooks for a continuum mechanics course.

Excited to further his studies in biomechanics at UCSD, Jeremy’s first choice for a mentor was a new, young faculty member who had just published a groundbreaking science paper that described the cellular signaling response of endothelial cells to shear stress. However, during Jeremy’s first year at UCSD, he met another extremely innovative professor, Dr. Bernhard Palsson. He was a former professor at the University of Michigan and had just moved to UCSD and was setting up his lab. Bernhard took a leave of absence from the University of Michigan to run a company that licensed his technology, so he didn’t take any Michigan students to UCSD. Jeremy was his first student at UCSD and remained his only student for a couple of years.

Together, Jeremy and Bernhard developed a highly innovative research plan and their early work launched a new global research direction to use bioinformatics to analyze genome sequence information to understand bacterial metabolism. At the time, during Jeremy’s first year at UCSD, the first full genome for a free-living organism was published in Science (Haemophilus influenzae), and sequencing this small bacterial genome cost approximately $1 million. The idea of using the genome sequence to analyze biological questions was controversial, which made it very difficult for Jeremy to publish his first few papers. Eventually, triple national academy member Dr. Ed Lightfoot sponsored the first critical paper into the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Afterwards, future publications were much easier to get through review.

In 1998, towards the end of Jeremy’s time at UCSD, he was certain he wanted to enter academia. Jeremy applied for faculty jobs and ultimately accepted a tenure track position in chemical engineering at the University of Delaware. However, before starting, he decided to spend a year at Harvard Medical School with Dr. George Church, an innovator in genomic science. When Jeremy joined George’s lab, it was not the extremely large lab it is today. Back in 1999, it was a small lab consisting of a few students and postdocs that were applying engineering concepts to biological projects. Jeremy’s goal in joining the lab was to develop technologies to sequence bacterial genomes. This would enable him to test hypotheses generated from some of his graduate work. However, Jeremy’s goal quickly changed to developing DNA sequencing methods to enable the $1,000 genome. By significantly lowering the cost of genome sequencing, it could then become a part of clinical medicine which was unheard of at the time.

Around this time, Bernhard saw the potential in commercializing the tools that Jeremy developed so he founded the startup Genomatica, which was ultimately acquired by Intrexon. Jeremy briefly consulted with Genomatica, however as an assistant professor, Jeremy was very focused on tenure and promotion and briefly lost sight of the importance intellectual property in the academic world. As an assistant professor, Jeremy developed many ideas that had commercial value, however, he freely shared these ideas and never pursued any patents. Ideas that he developed during this time included sequencing-by-ligation and emulsion PCR for next generation sequencing.

After promotion to associate professor, Jeremy became interested in commercializing work from his lab. It was during this time that he also began to appreciate the importance of intellectual property. Jeremy has been involved in several startup companies working to commercializing his technologies, and while some didn’t work out, others are still moving forward today. Jeremy currently works closely with local startups Centrillion Biosciences, EquiSeq, and Armonica to develop UNM IP into commercial products.

Jeremy is a Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department at the University of New Mexico. His work continues to be highly interdisciplinary, and he works with an active group of engineers, biologists and chemists to further develop DNA sequencing technology.

“Jeremy Edwards is an inspiring innovator. As a student, he was the first to go from genome sequence to predictive models of metabolism.  He has pioneered next-generation sequencing for RNA and genetic variant detection and more recently applications to cancer research, diagnosis and treatment.” – George Church, PhD

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