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NIH Names First Grants for Human Microbiome Project

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health today named the first awards, totaling up to $21.2 million, for its Human Microbiome Project, which aims to create a foundation for understanding the microbes that interact with humans and affect health.
This phase of the HMP, a five-year effort launched last year under the NIH’s Roadmap for Medical Research, will support the development of technologies, computational tools, coordination and data analysis, and examination of the ethical, legal, and social implications of human microbiome studies.
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said in a statement that the initial phase of the program “marks the beginning of efforts by researchers to put in place the framework for understanding how microorganisms interact with our bodies and affect health and disease. Developing new and more cost-effective technologies will be essential to applying knowledge about the human microbiome to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide array of conditions.”
Researchers in the HMP first plan to sequence 600 microbial genomes, which will complete a collection totaling 1,000 genomes. This information will be used to characterize human microbial communities from five areas of the human body: the digestive tract, the mouth, the skin, the nose, and the vagina.
“The development of new tools and technologies is central to our ability to meet the goals of the Human Microbiome Project,” said Alan Krensky, who is director of the Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives at NIH. “An exceptional amount of information will be generated by this project and we need robust technologies and analytical tools that are equal to the task.” 
Much of the work funded in the HMP’s first round will focus on improving and refining the identification of microbes that constitute the microbiome, and computational tools will be developed to optimize assembly of sequence data to infer the location and function of genes and to classify microbial species.
Grantees supported under this round of funding include Eugene Chang of the University of Chicago Medical Center, who will receive $410,000 over two years; Andre Marziali of Boreal Genomics, who will get $770,000 over two years; David Relman of Stanford University, who receives $1.6 million over three years; Thomas Schmidt of Michigan State University and Vincent Young of the University of Michigan, who receive $1.3 million over three years; Kun Zhang and Yu-Hwa Lo of the University of California, San Diego will get $1.8 million over three years; Daniel Haft of the J. Craig Venter Institute will receive $1.6 million over three years; Robin Knight of the University of Colorado at Boulder was granted $1.1 million over three years; Mihai Pop of the University of Maryland will receive $780,000 over three years; and Yuzhen Ye of Indiana University will receive $770,000 over three years.
NIH also granted $9.9 million over five years to establish the Human Microbiome Project Data Analysis and Coordination Center, which will be run by Owen White of the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, Baltimore.
HMP data will be deposited in the Data Analysis and Coordination Center and in other public databases, including those supported by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
The HMP also has awarded $1.2 million over three years to Richard Sharp and Ruth Farrell of the Cleveland Clinic, who will examine the ethical, social, and legal implications of human microbiome research.

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