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Bioimaging, MicroRNAs on the Rise, Sys Bio Centers

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The April 2006 cover story looked at the state of high-throughput imaging as the next great discovery tool in systems biology. The story featured leading vendors and institutes, including the Whitehead Institute at MIT, Cellomics, and GE Healthcare’s bioscience unit. Advances continue — with an increasing emphasis on live cell imaging, speed and sensitivity are becoming most important.

MicroRNA research received some attention, too. Among the biggest newsmakers last year were Dave Bartel at the Whitehead Institute, Olivier Voinnet at the Institute of Plant Molecular Biology in France, Frank Slack at Yale University, and Bino John at the University of Pittsburgh. Rosetta Genomics, founded in 2000, had then identified 112 previously uncharacterized miRNAs in human colorectal cells. Current news is that Rosetta inked licensing deals last summer with both Garching Innovation, the technology transfer agency of the Max Planck Society, and Rockefeller University, adding hundreds more miRNAs to its pool of 360 for potential use as diagnostic and therapeutic tools. The company also recently held an IPO.

GT also reported on three new initiatives from NIH: the Oncology Biomarker Qualification Initiative, a collaboration among FDA, NCI, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid as a way of assessing cancer biomarkers for developing cancer therapies; and two whole-genome association programs, the Genes and Environment Initiative and Genetic Association Information Network. Applications for GAIN were submitted in May of last year, and the projects selected for genotyping were announced in October. Six studies will undergo large-scale genotyping, including research in psoriasis, ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and type 1 diabetes. Both Pfizer and Affymetrix will contribute funds and services.

Five years ago, in the April 2002 issue, the cover story took a peek at what the genomics facility of the future would look like, profiling the construction of three new world-class digs. The three centers — the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, Princeton University; the University of California, Davis, Genome Center; and the Life Sciences Institute at the University of Michigan — were each designed around the same theme: to promote interaction and collaboration across scientific disciplines.

Lewis-Sigler now hosts a Center of Excellence in Quantitative Biology, founded in 2003 as a hub for applications research in genome-scale technologies, mathematical modeling, and modern molecular imaging. University of California, Davis, Genome Center, currently comprises 15 faculty members, houses five core facilities in DNA technologies, expression analysis, proteomics, metabolomics, and bioinformatics. Michigan’s LSI has 25 principal investigators and three core centers, including centers for chemical genomics, stem cell biology, and structural biology. LSI also supports numerous interdisciplinary initiatives, including a partnership with the School of Art and Design.

In 2002, GT also profiled Harren Jhoti and his Cambridge, UK-based startup Astex Technology. Now called Astex Therapeutics, the company, whose aim was to use high-throughput X-ray crystallography in a novel, fragment-based approach to drug discovery, has four drug candidates. One is a cell cycle inhibitor that entered Phase I clinical trials mid-2005.

The Scan

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Sanction Violation Charges

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Nature Papers Examine Genomes of Centenarians, Transcription-Coupled DNA Repair

In Nature this week: analysis of centenarian genomes uncovers longevity-linked variants, and more.