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Univ. of Utah, UCSD Win NIH Genomics Grants

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The University of Utah and the University of California, San Diego, have received National Institutes of Health funding for genomics studies that can be applied to pediatric neurobiology and cardiovascular disease research.

The University of Utah said this week that it won an $8.2 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to establish a zebrafish Cardiac Development Research Center that will serve as part of the Cardiovascular Development Consortium.

UCSD was awarded a $9 million stimulus grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to use gene mapping and imaging tools to collect data about childhood brain development.

The Utah researchers will study the parts of the genome related to the developing heart by using zebrafish models.

"Researchers have studied heart development one gene at a time, and that has given us a lot of progress," said University of Utah Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy and of Pediatrics Joseph Yost in a statement. "But it's time to look at the whole genome of the developing heart. Through our zebrafish center, we will be able to look at every decision point of every gene during the process of building a functioning heart," Yost added.

The researchers will study the physiology of normally and abnormally developing hearts at distinct steps in their development by introducing mutations into the zebrafish. Such a "multilayered molecular profiling of heart development has not been performed in any organism to date," the University said.

The project at UCSD will be coordinated between the school's Center for Human Development (CHD) and the MultiModal Imaging Laboratory, and will include researchers for seven different university departments.

"Our major aim is to create a database – essentially a map depicting the genomic landscape of the developing human brain – as a resource for the scientific community," UCSD Professor Anders Dale said in a statement.

"The impact of the study is likely to be very broad – it will provide information that could help to enhance education, improve early detection of mental disorders, and identify targets for early interventions that may prevent negative outcomes, such as addiction and mental disorders," UCSD Professor and CHD Director Terry Jernigan added.

The researchers will study 1,400 children between the ages of 3 and 20, seeking links between genetic variations and patterns of brain connectivity that could affect their mental abilities and personalities. If the researchers home in on a particular gene they will be able to search the database for any brain areas or connections between areas that differ in their development due to those genetic variations.

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