NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The National Institutes of Health yesterday officially launched its Epigenome Project, which will start as a five-year, $190 million trans-NIH effort aimed at advancing understanding of the role of environment in gene regulation and disease.
The NIH called the epigenomics funding, which GenomeWeb Daily News initially wrote about last fall, a priority research goal that will be funded through its RoadMap Initiative.
“Although there has been a lot of progress in the epigenome, new technologies are needed,” Alan Krensky, who directs the NIH Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives, told GenomeWeb Daily News in an interview last month. “We need comprehensive maps for different cell types, standardized platforms, and definitions, so that people can talk to each other about epigenetics and about how stable the epigenome is.”
“Epigenomics will build upon our new knowledge of the human genome and help us better understand the role of the environment in regulating genes that protect our health or make us more susceptible to disease,” NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said in a statement.
Like other Roadmap endeavors, the Epigenomics Project will be coordinated by OPASI, but will include leadership efforts from 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.
"Although we are beginning to understand a great deal about the basic science of epigenetics, this initiative heralds its application to human health and disease," Krensky said in yesterday’s statement.
OPASI hopes to work with the other centers and with investigators to develop a series of reference epigenome maps that would be publicly available and would be analogous to genome maps.
The research will study epigenetic mechanisms involved in aging, development, and environmental exposure, and scientists will seek to develop new tools to analyze single cells and develop images of epigenetic activity in living organisms. The NIH also expects to work with the international scientific community to develop new tools and define standard practices and platforms.