NHGRI awards $54 million to three Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science

Caltech, Yale and University of Washington receive five-year grants

BETHESDA, Md., Tues., Aug. 22, 2006 The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), today announced grants totaling $54 million over five years to establish one new Center of Excellence in Genomic Science (CEGS) and continue support for two existing centers.

NHGRI's CEGS program, which was started in 2001, pulls together multi-institution, interdisciplinary teams of scientists with the goal of making critical advances in genomic research. With the original centers' five-year awards slated to end this fall, NHGRI will renew the awards for the Microscale Life Sciences Center at the University of Washington, Seattle; and the Yale Center of Excellence in Genomic Science, Yale University, New Haven, Conn. Each center will receive $18 million over the next five years. In addition, NHGRI awarded $18 million over five years to create a new CEGS at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., which will be called the Center for In Toto Genomic Analysis of Vertebrate Development.

"The CEGS program is vital to our efforts to apply innovative genomic tools and technologies to the study of human biology," said NHGRI Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "By fostering collaboration among researchers from many different disciplines, NHGRI aims to encourage innovation and build a powerful new framework for exploring human health and disease."

At the University of Washington's Microscale Life Sciences Center, a team led by Deirdre R. Meldrum, Ph.D., will focus on developing miniaturized, automated systems to swiftly detect and analyze the differences between healthy cells and diseased cells at the level of an individual cell. Such information is important for understanding the fundamental pathways involved in disease processes.

In particular, the Microscale Life Sciences Center is interested in using its technological innovations to answer questions that focus on the delicate balance between cell growth and cell death. Imbalances in this cellular decision-making process play a key role in the top three disease killers in the United States: cancer, heart disease and stroke. The University of Washington center lead will move to Arizona State University in January 2007, and continue collaborating closely with researchers at University of Washington; Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass.; and at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle.

At the Yale Center of Excellence in Genomic Sciences, a team led by Michael P. Snyder, Ph.D., will expand upon its efforts to develop new technologies for identifying the areas of the genome essential to biological function, also known as functional elements. In the previous funding period, this CEGS created new genomic tiling array technologies for identifying transcribed sequences, transcription-factor binding sites, DNA replication timing and DNA sequence variation on a large scale.

The Yale researchers will now work to improve these innovative technologies, as well as explore new methods and approaches, including protein microarrays, with the goal of using these tools in an integrated fashion to analyze the regulatory steps involved in inflammation. The inflammatory process is part of the body's normal response to injury or infection. However, if inflammation runs amok, it can contribute to heart disease, arthritis, asthma, allergies, chronic skin disorders and many other conditions. Among the technologies to be utilized are protein microarrays, which are microscopic chips containing thousands of proteins that can be analyzed for a variety of biological characteristics and activities.

At the newly created CEGS at Caltech, a team led by Marianne Bronner-Fraser, Ph.D., will generate new technologies with the goal of imaging every gene that is important for development in vertebrates. The Center for In Toto Genomic Analysis of Vertebrate Development will initially develop and test its technologies in zebrafish embryos, which are an ideal model system for obtaining rapid feedback because they are transparent and develop quickly. Once validated, the techniques will be applied to bird embryos, which share more developmental similarities with humans.

Ultimately, the team plans to produce a "digital" fish and a "digital" bird, which will be widely available, online atlases of all the genes involved in development of those vertebrate systems. The technologies and datasets developed by this center will serve as a valuable resource to researchers studying the influence of genetics and environment on birth defects and other developmental disorders in humans.

Besides carrying out their research missions, CEGS also serve as a focal point for providing education and training about genomic research opportunities to members of under-represented minorities. Participants span a wide spectrum of ages and educational levels, ranging from college undergraduates to post-doctoral fellows. More information on this program is available at http://www.genome.gov/14514219.

In addition to the centers at Caltech, Yale and the University of Washington, other current participants in the CEGS program are:

  • Roger Brent, Ph.D., Molecular Sciences Institute, Berkeley, CA
  • George Church, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School, Boston
  • Andrew Feinberg, M.D., Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore. This CEGS is co-funded by NHGRI and the National Institute of Mental Health.
  • Jinguye Ju, Ph.D., Columbia University, New York. This CEGS is co-funded by NHGRI and the National Institute of Mental Health.
  • William S. Talbot, Ph.D., Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, CA
  • Michael Waterman, Ph.D., University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • Maynard V. Olson, Ph.D., University of Washington, Seattle

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For more details about the research being conducted by the CEGS, go to http://www.genome.gov/12511135.

About the National Human Genome Research Institute
NHGRI is one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. The NHGRI Division of Extramural Research supports grants for research and training and career development at sites nationwide. Additional information about NHGRI can be found at www.genome.gov.

About NIH
The National Institutes of Health "The Nation's Medical Research Agency" includes 27 institutes and centers, and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH, visit http://www.nih.gov.


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