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Genomic, Proteomic Consortia Join $210M NIH Project Exhorting Interdisciplinary Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — A trio of consortia studying genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics will participate in a $210 million National Institutes of Health project designed to “develop new ways to think about challenging biomedical problems” and “provide a stimulus for academic research culture change” so that interdisciplinary research “becomes the norm,” the agency said today.
The cash, part of the NIH’s Roadmap initiative, is designed to spur “change in academic research culture to make interdisciplinary research easier to conduct for scientists who wish to collaborate in unconventional ways,” NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said in a statement.
There are nine consortia in all, and according to the NIH their missions range from deciphering the basis of neuropsychiatric disorders, to developing new approaches to drug discovery and targeted gene therapy, to preserving fertility in women with cancer, to understanding the fundamentals of the aging process, to a coordinated and systematic approach to regenerative medicine and obesity, to probing the relationship between self-control and addictive behavior, and to developing targeted molecular therapies for neurodegenerative disorders.
The consortia will integrate "numerous" disciplines, including genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, biostatistics, biophysics, chemistry, gene therapy, stem cell biology, mechanical and tissue engineering, reproductive endocrinology, neurology, behavioral research, and the social sciences, NIH said.

One group, the Northwest Genome Engineering Consortium, will receive $23 million over five years to repair genomic DNA using homologous recombination, Andrew Scharenberg, an associate professor at the University of Washington, told GenomeWeb Daily News today.

Based in Seattle, the NGEC consists of research teams at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, at the University of Washington, and at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
The University of Texas Southwestern, meantime, has landed a $22 million cut to establish the Taskforce for Obesity Research at Southwestern, whihc will include genetics and metabolic studies. It will also help fund partnership programs the school is conducting with RNAi company Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.
Victor Kotelianski, Alnylam’s vice president of research, said in a statement that the company’s work on disease pathways with the school “could also lead directly to the advancement of new RNAi therapeutic programs, since the same drugs used in model systems can be advanced to human testing.”
Also receiving a grant will be researchers at the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University for a “Genomic Based Drug Discovery” program. The total amount of this award was not disclosed.
NIH said Edward Scolnick, a former executive at Merck and director of Broad’s Psychiatry Initiative, will be the principal investigator on the Broad grant. Scolnick’s work focuses on identifying genes linked to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Beyond the particular aims of the researchers involved in these studies, the NIH expects the work to contribute to the overarching goals of its Roadmap by “dissolving departmental boundaries within institutions,” by “providing recognition of team leadership within projects,” by “cross-training students in multiple disciplines,” and by “changing the NIH approach to interdisciplinary research administration.”
Additional information can be found here.