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Microsoft Research Funds Six GWAS Projects

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As part of a new effort to reach out and touch life science researchers, Microsoft's research division will support six academic research projects focused on genome-wide association studies. The awarded funding marked the successful close of one of three requests for proposals the group ran earlier this year, and the first year that Miscrosoft Research has allotted funding for healthcare research.

According to Kristin Tolle, program manager for biomedical computing on the External Research and Programs team at Microsoft Research, the funding initiative came out of the overwhelming interest in GWAS from the company's internal researchers, who are very much aware of the computational challenges associated with this particular area of genomics. She notes that Microsoft Research has some tools already used in areas like malaria and HIV that the team believes can easily translate to the broader range of GWAS.

"We found that within internal MS research, there was huge interest in various types of healthcare," says Tolle. "But overall, the most interest has been in this genomics space. There are a lot of people keenly interested in seeing that we get positive outcomes from this particular request for proposal." Part of the goal for Microsoft, she adds, is to learn about the field and discover potential collaborations.

In addition to serving the company's internal interest in this area, she says that Microsoft Research chose this area because of its unique position to fill funding gaps that can lead to a lack of needed tools — especially computational ones — in the scientists' arsenal. "Researchers tell me all the time that they apply for funding, but often don't get all of it, and the part that gets cut out is the IT portion," Tolle says. "But what we're doing is saying [that] we want the computational challenges. We want to fund people to do the IT portion."

So far, Microsoft has awarded more than $850,000 to the six groups, which include research teams at Purdue University, the Translational Genomics Research Institute, Johns Hopkins Hospital, University of California, Columbia University, and the University of the Republic of Uruguay. Some of the funds issued cover the development of a phenotypic informatics pipeline that converts raw health records data into a usable phenotype, and a GWAS that tackles 489 Finnish cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

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