At top universities around the country, the National Institutes of Health supports nine major genomic research centers. It recently announced it would be adding a 10th, at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, California.
Funded with $18 million over five years, the new research center will focus on genetic imaging of vertebrate animals. It will be dubbed the Center for In Toto Genomic Analysis of Vertebrate Development.
Research will initially focus on zebra fish embryos. Zebra fish are commonly used for research because they are physically transparent and mature quickly, which aids the development and validation of new technologies. Once confirmed, these techniques will be applied to bird embryos, which share more developmental similarities with humans.
Ultimately, the team plans to produce online atlases of all the genes involved in development of these vertebrate systems. The technologies and data sets developed by this center may serve as a resource for researchers studying the influence of genetics and environment on birth defects and other developmental disorders in humans.
The NHGRI (National Human Genome Research Institute), the division of the NIH providing the funding, also announced two other grants to continuing research centers.
With the original five-year awards due to expire this fall, NHGRI renewed the awards for the Microscale Life Sciences Center at the University of Washington, in Seattle, and the Yale University Center of Excellence in Genomic Science. Each center will receive $18 million over the next five years.
At the University of Washingtons Microscale Life Sciences Center, a team will focus on developing miniaturized, automated systems designed to swiftly detect and analyze the differences between healthy cells and diseased cells.
In particular, the center hopes to use its work to answer questions that focus on the 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.
At the Yale CEGS, functional elements that are areas of the genome essential to biological function will be the research target. CEGS has already 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 plan to improve these technologies, as well as explore new methods and approaches, including protein microarrays, to analyze the steps involved in inflammation. The inflammatory process is part of the bodys normal response to injury or infection. But if the process runs amok, it can contribute to heart disease, arthritis, asthma, allergies, chronic skin disorders and many other conditions.
"The CEGS program is vital to our efforts to apply innovative genomic tools and technologies to the study of human biology," NHGRI Director Francis Collins said. "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."