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Obama, Collins Laud $5B in NIH Stimulus Funds, Much for Genomics

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health has awarded more than 12,000 grants totaling around $5 billion so far under the economic recovery and stimulus package, the White House said today.

President Barack Obama commuted to Bethesda this morning to announce the funding as a milestone, to unveil a $175 million grant for cancer genomics, and to tour the NIH campus.

In late-morning speeches before a crowd of NIH staff, President Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and NIH Director Francis Collins loosely outlined how the $5 billion in grants over two years — nearly half of NIH’s total $10 billion appropriation under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — will stimulate research and create jobs.

A number of genomics-focused programs will be funded under the stimulus package, including $175 million over two years for The Cancer Genome Atlas, a joint effort between the National Human Genome Research Institute and the National Cancer Institute, according to a fact sheet released today by the White House.

“This ambitious effort promises to open new windows into the biology of all cancers, transform approaches to cancer research, and raise the curtain on a more personalized era of cancer care,” Collins said in a statement, describing the TCGA funding as “an excellent example of how the Recovery Act is fueling discoveries that will fundamentally change the way we fight disease and improve our lives.

"We are about to see a quantum leap in our understanding of cancer," Collins said.

NCI and NHGRI will also each commit $50 million in non-Recovery Act funds to the Genome Atlas over this two-year period, according to NCI.

"We know that this kind of investment will also lead to new jobs: tens of thousands of jobs conducting research, manufacturing and supplying medical equipment, and building and modernizing laboratories and research facilities," Obama said in a statement.

At the event, Collins told the NIH assembly that the grants "will fund trailblazing research into treating and preventing our most scary diseases.

“Since arriving [at NIH] six weeks ago I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing some of these grants — I wanted to see what was there — and they propose some of the most innovative and creative directions for research that I have ever seen in 16 years at NIH,” the new NIH director told the crowd.

More than $1 billion of the grant funding is dedicated to using technologies developed through the NIH’s genomics programs, specifically through the Human Genome Project, the White House said.

For cancer, heart disease, and many other areas, researchers will use Recovery Act funding for genomics and genetics-based research approaches to pursue knowledge about these diseases.

According to the White House, over the two years of recovery funding NIH stimulus grants will support studies including:

• Seeking to use microRNAs to predict which patients have tumors that will spread throughout the body;

• Conducting genomic sequencing of individuals with autism and their parents in order to find causes for the disease in the genome and in the environment and to develop and test diagnostic screening tools;

• Cataloging genetic changes associated with oral cancer in order to identify and guide treatment of pre-malignant lesions;

• Sequencing the genomes of more than 10,000 individuals with known risk factors for heart disease in order to identify those risk genes;

• Comparing the genomes of individuals with high and low HDL cholesterol levels in order to accelerate development of drugs that reduce the risk of heart attack;

• Examining the genes of more than 7,000 heart failure patients to identify variants that will enable doctors to identify those at risk for heart failure;

• Identifying genetic markers for increased risk of hypertension, obesity, cardiac hypertrophy, and kidney failure in African Americans;

• Finding markers that circulate in the blood that may signal the onset of a plaque rupture or of thrombosis;

• Analyzing biomarker and genetic data from international atrial fibrillation patient pools in search of markers to identify patients that will benefit from statin therapy.

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