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NIH Awards $42M for Human Microbiome Project

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health today announced it has awarded about $42 million in new funds in connection with the Human Microbiome Project.

The new funding seeks to expand the scope of eight demonstration projects to link changes in the human microbiome to health and disease, and to support the development of new technologies for the identification and characterization of microbial communities in the human microbiome.

The list of award winners can be found here.

The $157 million, five-year Human Microbiome Project was launched in 2008 and a year later, 15 one-year disease demonstration projects were funded to study the microbiomes of healthy volunteers and those with specific diseases at body sites thought to have a microbiome association.

In a statement, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and co-chair of the Human Microbiome Project's Implementation Group, said the additional funding announced today is for those studies "that hold the most promise for improving our understanding of how human health and disease are influenced by the human microbiome."

Criteria used to evaluate which initial projects would be expanded included the potential of each study to achieve the goals of the disease demonstration project; clinical relevance; and scientific merit, NIH said.

In the expanded studies, generally, more volunteers will be recruited; more robust sequencing analyses of the human microbiome will be performed; and stronger statistical tests will be applied.

Six projects aimed at developing new technologies for study of the microbiome are also being funded with the new awards. Microbes have historically been studied in the laboratory as cultures of isolated species, but because microbial growth depends on very specific natural environment, duplicating these conditions in a lab has been a challenge, NIH said.

As a result, new and innovative technologies are needed to "improve and refine the identification and characterization of the microbes that comprise the complex mixtures found in and on our bodies," said NIH.

In addition, analysis of the sequence data from the Human Microbiome Project will require new and better computational approaches. By the end of the month, before the end of the current fiscal year, the Human Microbiome Project's computational tools program anticipates awarding additional funds to develop new bioinformatics tools, NIH said.