Dave Deamer and Mark Akeson – pioneers of nanopore sequencing – honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award

Three decades before Oxford Nanopore released the first MinION, University of California Professor Dave Deamer was driving through Oregon with his family in 1989 when he was struck by a novel ideal - to sequence DNA by moving nucleic acids through a pore in a membrane. He later recalled pulling to the side of the road and sketching out the original concept for nanopore sequencing on a notepad.

It took years of persistence to turn that conceptual idea into a boundary-pushing academic research programme that was foundational for further industrial research and development at Oxford Nanopore. This was a winding journey that soon involved Deamer’s former postdoc Mark Akeson, who joined Deamer’s nanopore research group at the University of California, Santa Cruz to study the fundamental molecular biology processes behind nanopore-based sensing

Both Deamer and Akeson were selected to receive the Lifetime Achievement in Innovation award as part of the inaugural UC Santa Cruz Chancellor’s Innovation Impact Awards program. The Innovation Impact Awards program recognises faculty members whose career accomplishments include innovations that have led to significant, long-term societal impacts. Both will receive an award to direct to a division, department, or laboratory of their choosing to support innovative research activities at UC Santa Cruz.

Crossing the divide between idea and scientific embodiment took years of experimentation and overcoming disbelief within the scientific community. Akeson played a major role in bridging that divide and was first author on a 1999 paper reporting that the hemolysin nanopore could distinguish between short strings of a purine base (adenine) and a pyrimidine base (cytosine) in a specific unit of RNA. That result helped Deamer and his team file for a 1998 patent, approved by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

More patents followed and in 2007 those patents were licensed to Oxford Nanopore, where CEO Gordon Sanghera his co-founder Spike Willcocks, CTO Clive Brown and teams progressed the early vision for nanopore sensing into a commercial reality. In 2014 Oxford Nanopore released the MinION, its first version of a DNA/RNA sequencing platform that provided highly accurate, information-rich genetic information on a hand-held device a fraction of the size of competing technology.

Today, Oxford Nanopore has expanded the reach and use of this technology into the hands of thousands of scientists in more than 120 countries worldwide, empowering broad communities of scientific users to answer a wide range of essential biological questions. This scientific work by the research community is the foundation for the development of future analysis methods to address real-world problems in health – including human genetics, cancer, infectious disease, public health -- food and agriculture, environment, education and more.

Gordon Sanghera, CEO Oxford Nanopore Technologies, commented: “Congratulations to Professors Dave Deamer and Mark Akeson for this well-deserved lifetime achievement award. Their foundational ideas and tireless scientific drive paved the way for an entirely novel way to sequence DNA and RNA. They made it possible for Oxford Nanopore to disrupt the sequencing world with the most accessible technology that is delivering comprehensive biological insights to the scientific community. Nanopore sequencing has had a profound impact on scientific research worldwide, and we are just at the start of the genomics era, which stands to open up huge research potential in human health and disease, conservation and many other areas facing our planet.”