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Cold Spring Harbor Lab Says Benefits of ARRA Funding Will Outlast Stimulus Program

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory says it expects to benefit from the stimulus funding it received through from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, well past the program's end next year.

"For CSHL, the injection of ARRA funds has been very positive and will have an impact past the two years of the funding in that it is generating new data that will lead to new projects and new opportunities to pursue grant funding from public and private sources," a laboratory spokeswoman, Dagnia Zeidlickis, told GenomeWeb Daily News this week.

CSHL secured $23.4 million of stimulus funding in 19 awards. The largest award, at more than $4.7 million over two years from the National Cancer Institute, funded the creation of a Molecular Target Discovery and Development Center, with the goal of determining which of the hundreds of genes that are altered in cancer actually play a role in causing the disease.

The center — part of a network of five such centers established nationwide — is evaluating the torrent of data from recent human cancer genome projects, as well as validating candidate genes in mouse models. The center hopes that information can help in discovering and validating new cancer drugs targeting molecular changes in the disease seen in patients. Scott Powers, an associate professor, is the project's principal investigator.

Next largest, at just over $2.5 million over two years from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is a study of the epigenetic dynamics of developing germ cells and early mouse embryos. Gregory Hannon, professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, served as PI for the study, part of which compares epigenetic profiles in early embryos derived from normal mice to those of early embryos in hormone-treated, super-ovulated mice, since hormone treatments are believed to alter the epigenetic state of some genes.

The research is designed to help understand hormone-assisted attempts at conception undergone by up to 1 million women each year.

CSHL also used almost $1.3 million of ARRA funds over two years from the National Institute of Mental Health to hire a developmental neurobiologist with expertise in neural circuit development and plasticity. Zeidlickis said the laboratory won't disclose the faculty member's identity until the appointment is finalized.

That person will join CSHL's current 50-member faculty, which includes professors, associate professors, assistant professors, and fellows.

A less costly project, using $497,423 in ARRA funds from the National Science Foundation, consisted of renovations of the greenhouse at CSHL's Uplands Farm Research Field Station, which supports research into Arabidopsis and crop plants as well as the plant genetics teaching programs of CSHL's Dolan DNA Learning Center.

In an abstract of its grant application, CSHL concluded: "These facilities are inadequate to meet the demands of current genome driven plant biology research. The infrastructural improvements will provide appropriate growing conditions for a greater diversity of plant species and will increase the energy efficiency of the facilities."

"With new research project funding, upgraded infrastructure, and a new faculty position, CSHL will be able to continue to pursue the kind of innovative research that we are best known for," Zeidlickis said. "This research should lead to new opportunities for funding from Federal programs that are increasingly recognizing innovation and transformative research — like the TRO1 and Challenge Grants that we have been successful in securing — in addition to ARRA."

ARRA is the $814 billion measure signed into law by President Obama last year with the intent of stimulating the nation's economy. The law required NIH to spend, or commit to spend, all $10 billion available to the agency under the legislation by Sept. 30, 2010 — though ARRA money doesn't have to be in the hands of grant winners, generally, until Sept. 29, 2011.

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