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EU Set to Launch $54M Epigenomics Initiative

By Matt Jones

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A European project set to start next week and funded with €39.9 million ($54.3 million) will seek to provide a shot in the arm to epigenomics-based research by generating and studying scores of reference epigenomes for use by researchers around the world, according to the European Union.

Funded with €30 million from the European Commission and an expected contribution of nearly €10 million from collaborators, the Blueprint of Haematopoietic Epigenomes (Blueprint) project will include research partners at 41 institutes, universities, and genomics-related companies. The project is expected to end on March 31, 2016.

The project partners plan to generate at least 100 reference epigenomes from healthy and malignant cells that are highly purified in order to create a comprehensive set of epigenetic marks. They will focus almost exclusively on primary cells from individuals with detailed genetic records and, in some cases, detailed medical records.

The EU views the project as a necessary step in advancing personalized medicine and considers it one of its first high-impact projects undertaking a large-scale science project that offers significant potential for meeting societal needs.

Blueprint seeks to complete an epigenome-wide association study that will help make reference genomes more usable for disease researchers, and to generate knowledge that will be integrated with other key data sources, such as The International Human Epigenome Consortium (IHEC), the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project, and the 1000 Genomes Project.

The partners also will seek to conduct comprehensive bioinformatic analyses of their epigenomes and prepare and disseminate it in a user-friendly platform to the global scientific community.

The goal is that the reference genomes will feed into IHEC's objective of deciphering at least 1000 epigenomes over the next seven to 10 years.

The collaborators also will establish data production and analysis centers that will serve as a focal point for epigenome analysis in Europe and internationally.

Blueprint has negotiated access to samples from the Cambridge BioResource, the International Cancer Genome Consortium, and the British Diabetic Twin Study. The full genomic sequencing for the project will be provided by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and genomic samples also will be provided by the Mouse Genomes Project, the EU said.

The Blueprint partners will pursue several scientific and technological objectives in four research areas. They will generate reference epigenomes that are relevant to human health and disease; use epigenomic data to identify and validate epigenetic markers and explore their interplay with genetic variation; develop new technologies to improve epigenomic analysis with a focus on DNA methylation and miniaturizing chromatin immunoprecipitation; and define relevant drug targets involved in cancer to develop small molecules that can inhibit those targets.

The project partners include Genomatix; Halo Genomics; Epigenomics AG; Oxford Nanopore; the Max Planck Institute; the European Molecular Biology Laboratory; Erasmus University Medical Center; the Weizman Institute of Science; University College London; and the Babraham Institute, among others.

The project will officially kick off next week with a joint meeting between Blueprint partners and the IHEC in Amsterdam.