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NIH Awards $42M for More Human Microbiome Studies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Researchers studying the microbes that live on and inside the human body will receive $42 million in new grants from the National Institutes of Health to fund the Human Microbiome Project, NIH said today.

These new grants will continue the five-year, $140 million project, launched in 2007, which aims to develop a resource for scientists interested in the human microbiome by conducting metagenomic, DNA analysis, and other studies.

This round of grants will support large-scale DNA sequencing centers that were involved in the project from the first phase. These centers are pursuing the goal of sequencing at least 400 microbial genomes. Another roughly 500 microbial genomes are already completed or are in the sequencing pipeline.

Currently, researchers working under the HMP funding are studying microbial communities from the mouth, skin, digestive tract, nose, and vagina.

"Examining the differences between the microbiomes of healthy patients and those of patients suffering from a disease promises to change how we diagnose, treat and, ultimately, prevent many health conditions," Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington said in a statement.

The large-scale sequencing centers and their approximate funding over four years include the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine, which received $3.7 million; the Washington University School of Medicine, Saint Louis, which received $16.1 million; and the J. Craig Venter Institute, which received $8.8 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The HMP also is funding new pilot projects that will sample the microbiomes of healthy volunteers with specific diseases, enabling scientists to study changes in the microbiome in areas that are either healthy or affected by disease. In addition to the areas mentioned above, these studies will analyze samples taken from the blood and the male urethra.

These pilot projects include:

• $560,000 to New York University for a study of the skin microbiome and psoriasis;

• $1 million to Virginia Commonwealth University to study changes in the vaginal microbiome and associated environmental factors, diseases, and a woman's genetics;

• $820,000 to Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis to collect and characterize samples from an ethnically diverse group of male adolescents in order to understand the male urethral microbes and its relation to puberty, sexual activity, and sexually transmitted disease;

• $2 million to the University of Maryland School Medicine, Baltimore, with $1 million going to a study of the gut microbiome and obesity among the Amish that may inform knowledge of human genetic variation on the composition of the microbiome, and $1 million to understand the relationship between inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease, the intestinal microbiome, and bacterial proteins by studying pairs of twins with and without disease;

• $980,000 to Washington University School of Medicine to analyze the intestinal microbiome and Crohn's disease;

• $990,000 to the University of California, Los Angeles, to examine the association between the skin microbiome and acne;

• $1 million to the New York University School of Medicine to sample the oral cavity, esophagus, and stomach to study the microbes in these sites and esophageal cancer;

• $980,000 to the University of Maryland's School of Medicine, Baltimore, to study how microbes are involved in risk of bacterial vaginosis;

• $400,000 to NHGRI Senior Investigator Julie Segre to study skin and nose microbiomes of subjects with atopic dermatitis; $950,000 to Washington University School of Medicine to study the immune system and the viral microbiome in children who are healthy and those who are sick with sudden high fevers;

• $1 million to Washington University School of Medicine to study the intestinal microbiome and the development of necrotizing enterocolitis, which can damage the intestine in premature infants;

• $750,000 to Baylor College of Medicine to examine the intestinal microbiome and any possible connections with irritable bowel syndrome;

• $1.1 million to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, to study a treatment of inflammatory bowel disease;

• $1 million to the University of Michigan to study inflammations related to a colon replacement pouch used in some ulcerative colitis cases;

Each of these pilot projects will be up for review after a year to determine their progress and their ability to determine a relationship between the microbiome in one body region and a disease.

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