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NIH launches $280m genome-sequencing project

25 January 2016

By Rikita Patel

Appeared in BioNews 836

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has pledged over US$280 million over the next four years to genome sequencing targeting common and rare human diseases.

Providing grants totalling US$240 million, the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) has launched a large-scale collborative project coordinated by the Centers for Common Disease Genomics (CCDG), which will set up a network of sequencing and analysis centres to conduct research into the genetic basis of common conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Additional funding is being provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

The project plans to sequence 150,000 to 200,000 genomes from people affected by a range of common diseases in an attempt to understand how genetics can influence disease risk. The investigators will initially focus on cardiovascular and mental disorders that affect the nervous system, but may expand to autoimmune and bone diseases, as well as Alzheimer's disease.

'The center investigators plan to use genome sequencing to identify as many of the genes and genomic variants underlying common diseases as possible,' said Dr Adam Felsenfeld, director of the NHGRI Genome Sequencing Program. 'Building on existing research, they will continue to uncover new biological insights into the development of common disease.'

At the McDonnell Genome Institute at the University of Washington, researchers plan to sequence 40,000 genomes from diverse ethnicities. Building on its current profile of 20,000 samples from a distinctive Finnish population and thousands of genomes from African-Americans, it hopes to identify genetic variants involved in diabetes and heart disease.

Dr Rick Wilson, director of the McDonnell Genome Institute, commented:  'If we can identify these genes, we might be able to create new drugs and identify people who are at risk way before they would ever have a heart attack.'

A number of institutions, including the Broad Institute, Johns Hopkins University and the Baylor College of Medicine, have also been provided with US$40 million worth of grant funding over four years through the Centers for Mendelian Genomics (CMG) to support ongoing research into rare and typically single-gene conditions, such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis. Additional funding has also been pledged by the NHLBI and the National Eye Institute.

'Rare diseases provide an important window into the biology of both rare and common diseases,' said Dr Lu Wang, director of the CMG program, which was started in 2011.

Meanwhile, the 100,000 Genomes Project in the UK has started to recruit its first cancer patients. By sequencing the patient's genome and DNA from their tumours, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of disease risk and the responsiveness of cancer treatment.

The £300 million project aims to map, sequence and analyse 100,000 genomes from cancer patients, as well as from people with rare conditions and their families by 2017. Over 6000 genomes have been sequenced so far.

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