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University of Washington, Yale Win $45M from NHGRI to Launch Centers of Excellence

NEW YORK, Sept. 25 - The University of Washington has won a pair of five-year grants totaling $30 million from the National Human Genome Research Institute and Yale University won a similar five-year award to launch the next phase of research into understanding the human genome.

The grants, which may be renewed for an additional five years, comprise all of the three parcels the NHGRI has made available under its new Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science program.

According to the NHGRI, the long-term goal of the Centers of Excellence is to bring the cost for sequencing the human genome “down from hundreds of millions of dollars, which was the cost of the Human Genome Project, to hundreds of dollars, so that an individual's genetic sequence can become part of a person's routine medical record.”

The centers will be composed of teams of investigators from a variety of fields who will “take a leadership role in this next phase of genomic research,” according to a statement.

"The University of Washington is thrilled to receive these grants," Lee Huntsman, the school’s provost, said in the statement, released on Monday. "We are gratified that, in this extremely competitive area, UW scientists have developed innovative proposals for advancing human genome research that were judged to be the very best in the country."

The University of Washington, located in Seattle, will create two individual centers, according to Huntsman. One will be created within the College of Engineering and co-directed by Deirdre Meldrum, professor of electrical engineering and adjunct professor of bioengineering, and Mary Lidstrom, associate dean for new initiatives in the College of Engineering and Jungers professor of chemical engineering.

The goal of this particular center, the university said, is to develop “modular microscale devices” to detect and analyze how, when, and why minute populations of cells interact in real time. It is hoped that this technology will help understand fundamental cellular processes like metabolism and infection. 

The other center will be run by Maynard Olson, who is the director of the University of Washington Genome Center, a professor of genetics and medicine, and an adjunct professor of computer science. This center will study SNPs and individuals’ drug resistance.

Yale’s effort, run by Michael Snyder, professor and chair of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, meanwhile, will “prepare thousands of DNA segments from the human genome and use them to develop methods for discovering where key regulatory proteins bind throughout the genome.”

“We are grateful to receive such generous support and we look forward to continuing our research into the functioning of the human genome,” Snyder said in a separate statement released on Sept. 12. “Our team's methods will elucidate the functions of many of [the unknown regions of the human genome] for the first time, and … emerge with a much more detailed understanding of the human genome and its regulation.”