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NHGRI to Fund Genomics ELSI Centers

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The National Human Genome Research Institute has set aside $3.9 million in funding for 2010 to create several cross-disciplinary centers that will study the ethical, legal, and social implications of genomics technologies.

To that end, the agency said it plans to launch a new funding program to support the effort, and will give grants of up to $750,000 per year for five years to fund as many as three specialized centers and exploratory centers and up to $150,000 per year for three years for three exploratory research projects.

NHGRI wants these Centers for Excellence in Ethical, Legal and Social Implications Research, to be called CEERs, to fund research teams trying to integrate basic genomics, clinical and health policy research, ethics, law, the humanities, and other areas.

The teams will be able to research and respond to "a range of ELSI issues related to emerging genome technologies and the growing proliferation of genomic information," according to the National Institutes of Health's funding announcement.

Specifically, the CEERs will encourage collaborations between diverse groups, make results of their work available to policy makers, and will help train the next generation of ELSI researchers. They will be organized around particular themes, and their research agenda should focus on a single issue or a set of related issues, which ideally will be themes in keeping with NHGRI's large-scale programs.

These programs include the Cancer Genome Atlas; medical sequencing projects; the Human Microbiome Project; the 1000 Genomes Project; the Genes and Environment Initiative, and several others.

"Each of theses projects has raised new high-priority ELSI issues," some of which are already being addressed, NIH said. But the CEER program is aimed "to allow researchers to propose larger-scale, transdisciplinary, and innovative approaches to exploring and addressing them."

Centers that would receive funding should have a detailed plan and an effective management strategy, and should promote interactions between researchers across disciplines, such as basic genomics and genetics, clinical and social sciences, law, bioethics, and the humanities.

The centers should also develop new concepts, methods, analyses, and other ways to look at ELSI issues, and should offer ways that could advance controversial issues. They should also try to encompass "the full spectrum of ELSI research," and the policy options and guidelines they offer should incorporate diverse points of view, including communities particularly vulnerable or disproportionately affected by the issues being addressed.