Success Story

Cloning talent


While part of the TalentEdge program as a biochemistry graduate, Jim Vlasblom helped Toronto-based company DNAstack improve on its search engine for genetic mutation or markers.

“If we could find five to 10 more ‘Jims’, that would be ideal!”

Given that those words come from an expert in human genomics and DNA, it might be natural for the word “cloning” to come to mind.

But it’s simply Marc Fiume, Founder and CEO of DNAstack enthusing on the talents of Senior Engineer Jim Vlasblom, a biochemistry graduate he hired in August 2014 through OCE’s TalentEdge Fellowship Program.

DNAstack, located in Toronto’s Discovery District, is a massively scalable platform for genomic data management, sharing and analysis. It makes genomics simpler by reducing barriers that stand between DNA sequencing data and genetic scientists.

“We’re a cloud-based solution for storing and analyzing people’s genomes, with a focus on helping researchers to identify the cause of their disease,” explains Fiume. “We’re excited to be  developing technology informed by regulatory and security policies to transform the way genomics is done for the benefit of human health. Formerly, genomic data has been siloed at each institution that was generating it, but we’re creating secure, scalable, and interoperable technologies to power a sort of internet for genomics.”

While part of the TalentEdge program as a biochemistry graduate, Vlasblom helped the company improve on its search engine for genetic mutation or markers. “Jim did a brilliant job in the academic project on creating a language for specifying that,” Fiume says.

“When we started with TalentEdge we wanted to create the best available search engine for genomics and since then we’ve joined forces with leading researchers and industry partners, including Google Genomics, to build a really robust concept for searching genomes in a way that’s informative while protecting the privacy of individual participants. Jim’s been really instrumental in leading that discussion,” he adds.

Now a full-time employee of the company, Vlasblom is fully immersed in taking the technology to the next level.

“I’m working on high performance, parallelized server software,” says Vlasblom. “I’m writing the software to work with cloud storage and database providers to enable queries from the user to be executed quickly on the cloud.”

Fiume notes that it can be challenging to find the right talent for his company.

“We’re very actively looking for sharp engineers,” says Fiume. “It’s really difficult to find someone with a combination of expertise in genomics and a software engineering.”

Vlasblom definitely had the company’s interest in mind when he attended this year’s OCE Discovery conference as a TalentEdge fellow. “I was able to promote the ideas we’re working on at our company and made some important new contacts including potential customers and collaborators that I don’t think we would have met otherwise.”