NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health plans to expand and deepen its understanding of human genomics with a $190 million, five-year Roadmap Epigenomics Program, and it has made public $18 million in grants to start the program in 2008, NIH said yesterday.
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni in a statement called epigenomics-based research “a central issue in biology,” and the agency intends to make this program one that will yield insights for use in many other research applications. “We will build upon our new knowledge of the human genome and move towards a deeper understanding of how DNA information is dynamically regulated through DNA histone modifications as well as the emerging role of microRNAs and other factors,” he added.
Zerhouni said this group of Roadmap grants “will provide reference data that the entire community can use to understand epigenetic regulation and how it affects health and disease.”
The epigenomics program involves a number of NIH institutes, including the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; the National Institute on Drug Abuse; the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders; the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
The 2008 awards that NIH announced on Monday include four research areas: epigenome mapping centers; epigenomics data analysis and coordination; technology development in epigenetics, and the discovery of novel epigenetic marks in mammalian cells.
"The Epigenome Program promises to uncover the fundamental processes that make a liver cell different from a muscle cell or a brain cell,” NIDDK Director Griffin Rodgers explained in a statement.
“Understanding these processes has far-reaching implications, from reprogramming of adult cells to treat disease to learning how environmental exposures during pregnancy increase a child’s risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease," Rodgers added.
The Reference Epigenome Mapping Centers will map a variety of human cells that can be used as references for studying disease mechanisms. Four centers will receive awards under the 2008 funding including the Production Sequencing of Reference Human Epigenomes program led by Bradley Bernstein and Alexander Meissner at the Broad Institute/Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the San Diego Epigenome Center led by Bing Ren, at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; the Integrated Epigenetic Maps of Human Embryonic and Adult Cells program led by Joseph Costello, of the University of California, San Francisco, and Marco Antonio Marra of the British Columbia Cancer Agency; and the Northwest Reference Epigenome Mapping Center led by John Stamatoyannopoulos, at the University of Washington.
The Epigenomics Data Analysis and Coordination Center will integrate the data and information from the programs by providing informatics and analysis. It will be headed by Aleksandar Milosavljevic and Arthur Beaudet, at the Baylor College of Medicine.
The Technology Development in Epigenetics awards will fund development of technologies that may transform future epigenomics research. The researchers receiving these technology development grants include Mark Bedford of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Or Gozani of Stanford University; Harold Craighead and Paul Soloway at Cornell University; Howard Hang of Rockefeller University; Steven Henikoff at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Shohei Koide of the University of Chicago; Rihe Liu of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Robi Mitra at Washington University, St. Louis; Huidong Shi of the University of Missouri-Columbia; Kun Zhang at the University of California, San Diego; Alan Jackson of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; and Sean Taverna at Johns Hopkins University.
The Discovery of Novel Epigenetic Marks awards will fund scientists trying to determine whether genome-wide regulating factors exist and if they may be specific to certain types of cells. Scientists receiving funds under this program include Xian Chen and Brian Strahl at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Xiaodong Cheng at Emory University; Patrick Grant of the University of Virginia; Richard Katz at the Institute for Cancer Research; Marjorie Oettinger at Massachusetts General Hospital; Alexi Tulin and Kenneth S. Zaret of the Institute for Cancer Research; Peter E. Warburton at Mount Sinai School of Medicine at New York University; and Yingming Zhao at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
More information about the program is available here.