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Steps Ahead, But Not There Yet

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At 8:30 every Thursday morning, the directors of the 27 institutes and centers of the NIH meet on the pastoral Bethesda campus to talk, as Francis Collins says, “about areas of mutual interest.” The weekly coffee klatch is “an opportunity for whatever new idea has come along that would have broad implications for many institutes to get discussed.” If there’s enough enthusiasm, Collins says, “then the institutes look at their own budgets and try to figure out what they can contribute.”

Collins, who directs the National Human Genome Research Institute, has little going on in his domain that isn’t of mutual interest. It’s easy to see how genomics projects will have broad benefits across the agency, he says. That fact has enabled NHGRI to eke a little more support for its initiatives out of the massive overall NIH budget than the measly $429 million that it has been allotted this year. “It’s a way to take advantage of the interactiveness of the components of NIH and to do something more rapidly than we could just with our own small proportion of the enterprise,” he says.

Inside this issue of GT, our Q&A with Collins, a series of mini-profiles describing the genomic activities of several other NIH institutes, and a directory of grant money available for computational biology tools development all point up an increasing interest by the US government in genomics technology.

Indeed, Collins hints that supporting technology will be a big part of NHGRI’s future. This coming November his team will present its draft vision for the next genome research agenda. Says Collins, “After all, in April 2003 we will finish the human genome and it will be the 50th anniversary of the double helix. We will unveil this new research plan that has already consumed thousands of hours of people’s time.”

Workshops that NHGRI will run throughout the year are intended to “try to drill down a bit more deeply into what some of the options would be.” He says he can already see several priorities emerging: “Clearly there will be a big focus on additional genome sequencing, comparative genomics, the haplotype map, ... and proteomics.”

Of the latter discipline Collins adds, “Because the genome institute functions as one that tries to think a few steps ahead, it will be very focused on technology development, because that really is the rate-limiting step for moving proteomics into a production phase. We’re just not quite there yet with the technologies we’ve got available.”

Adrienne J. Burke, Editor in Chief

 

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