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Researchers Launch Human Proteome Organization, Aim to Spark Global Efforts

NEW YORK, Feb 9 - A group of academic and commercial proteomics researchers announced Friday the official launch of the Human Proteome Organization, which aims to coordinate efforts to better understand the proteome.

“The object of HUPO is to try and get the human proteome project off the ground as soon as possible,” said Adrian Shaw, a spokesman for the organization. “It is also there to raise awareness of proteomics, not just among scientists, but in government and financial circles.”

The organization, which has members from Europe, North America, and Asia, will seek to foster international collaboration in the proteomics community and encourage proteomics research around the world.

A separate publicly-sponsored effort coordinated by the NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences is also ramping up its proteomics program, with a $150 million commitment to support research geared towards elucidating thousands of protein structures over the next few years.

HUPO will hold its inaugural meeting in McLean, Va., between April 2 and 4. At the meeting, members will define the organization’s goals, discuss the Human Proteome Project, and to seek nominations for a president. That meeting will be followed by a three-day gathering of the International Structural Genomics Task Force, which begins on April 4 in Warrenton, Va.

HUPO aims to take up where the Human Genome Project left off. “Now that the human genome has been sequenced it is the understanding of proteins, the products of genes, in the context of disease genesis that is the next logical step to take,” HUPO said.

Proteomics experts have lately questioned whether the Human Genome Project model can be successfully applied to proteomics, given that proteins are more complex than genes. While the genome project has involved determining the sequence of genes alone, proteins can be formed in multiple ways and involve complex folded three-dimensional structures. Also, a single gene can encode multiple proteins, leading a number of leaders in the field to predict that there may be between 120,000 and a million proteins in the human proteome.

But HUPO members see these aspects of proteomics as a spark rather than a barrier to their efforts.

“Because of the of the complexity of the proteome more than anything else, there will be a considerable amount of two-way collaboration and work between the private and public sector,” said Christopher Pearce, CEO of Proteome Sciences in the UK and a member of HUPO.

“With Celera, when they were going to go ahead and sequence the human proteome, the quantums of computing capabilities were not sufficient to address [the problem]. Logistically it is a big challenge, and as a consequence it will take a long time and a lot of people will be preparing and developing data in their own way," he said.

While there is already significant interest in proteomics from the commercial sector, HUPO members also believe there needs to be a coordinated effort if significant progress is going to be made in the next five years.

“There has to be an ordered approach to assessing the output of every single gene in the genome,” said Ian Humphery-Smith, a charter council member and founder of Glaucus Proteomics in the Netherlands. “It’s a huge project, a five to seven year pro ject. It will be driven mostly by commercial forces but needs to be assisted and facilitated by government spending."

In addition to Pearce and Humphrey-Smith, other inaugural HUPO council members include Ruedi Aebersold of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle; Amos Bairoch of the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics; Denis Hochstrasser of Switzerland's GeneProt; Raj Pareckh of Oxford Glycosciences in the UK; and Scott Patterson of Celera.

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