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Penn Genome Frontiers Institute to Establish New Focal Centers

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Penn Genome Frontiers Institute expects to spend $5 million over the next three years to establish up to three new "focal areas" of research that would undertake large-scale projects based on partnerships in translational and personalized genomics.

"The PGFI anticipates providing the initial funding to get these focal centers started. We anticipate that these monies will be supplemented with funding from other sources at some point in the future," Jim Eberwine, a co-director of the institute, told GenomeWeb Daily News on Tuesday.

Each new focal center selected for funding will be staffed by an existing PI in conjunction with other PGFI faculty, Eberwine added.

According to the institute, the new focal centers will each be designed to apply computational analysis, genomics, and systems modeling on a single disease, a single translational model system, or a therapeutic problem. Each focal center is expected to immediately launch pilot projects that include design of analysis strategies, functional assays, genomic sequencing, and RNA sequencing.

"Ideal projects will vertically integrate well-characterized clinical populations, high-throughput assays, pathway and target identification, functional validation in model systems, and the design of therapeutic strategies," PGFI said on its web site.

The institute said it anticipates funding preliminary data collection and hiring support staffers, as well as installing latest next-generation sequencing machines, and additional computational infrastructure.

While exactly what equipment will be installed is still being negotiated, Eberwine said, the equipment will be installed over the next fiscal quarter and cost "on the order of" $1.5 million to $2 million.

The number of support staffers to be hired "will vary dependent upon the focal center, but we anticipate hiring several new staffers to help with the sequencing and bioinformatics needs," Eberwine said.

New focal areas would join PGFI's existing focal areas, one of which is related to the systems science of cellular phenotype.

PGFI is seeking formal letters of interest by March 15 from researchers interested in creating the partnerships. The institute said those letters should include a list of interested investigators, the target problem to be studied, the rationale for the partnership, and a description of current resources, including clinical populations.

The proposals discussed in the letters will be evaluated, according to PGFI, on criteria that include the interdisciplinary team, including multi-school participation; the strength and availability of a clinical population and other existing resources; the potential for vertical integration with genomic technologies; and the potential for impact and external funding.

The Penn Genome Frontiers Institute is part of the University of Pennsylvania. It previously was known as the Penn Genomics Institute and was established in January 2001.

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