Eric Green is no stranger to the genomics community or the National Human Genome Research Institute, which he now leads. As part of NHGRI's intramural program for 15 years and the scientific director of the institute's intramural research program for seven years, Green has seen genomics grow up from being focused on basic genomic research to having an increasingly clinical bent.
"One of the things that we really emphasized in the seven years I served as scientific director was to use the intramural program as test bed, as a pilot," Green says. "We took out for a test ride some application of genomics in the clinical research arena."
That's still where the community is moving, according to feedback NHGRI has already received from its planning process, Green says. In the past, NHGRI has developed five-year plans to focus its research: the 1998 iteration set the goals of having a working draft of the human genome done by 2001 and a full sequence by 2003. The last long-term plan was set in 2003, though the early steps of a new one — soliciting ideas from the community through white papers, workshops, and meetings — began last year, but moved along slowly until a permanent director could start at NHGRI. "One of the things that we've heard loud and clear — and will certainly be a reflection of where the institute is in part going to head — is to harness and use genomic approaches for increasingly tackling problems in human genetics and medical genetics," Green says, adding that the institute may partner with its sister institutes for those projects.
This move toward the clinic is driven by improvements in sequencing, Green says. "Clearly, advances in DNA sequencing technology are pushing this to the forefront of clinical research and eventually, perhaps, clinical care. So much needs to be studied and worked through. The technology advances are happening faster than I think anybody ever expected," he says. "The idea of 'how are we going to use whole genome sequencing as part of routine medical care?' I think is the kind of problems that we need to be studying and I think the genome institute has a lot to contribute to."