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UPDATE: New National Center for Toxicogenomics Launched

This story has been updated from a previous version.

NEW YORK, Dec 7 - The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences announced Thursday that it has established the National Center for Toxicogenomics to speed identification of unknown toxic substances using genomic technology.

The new center will provide financial support to scientists at academic and other research institutions nationwide, and will also embark on in-house research as well as collaborations with public agencies and private healthcare and biotechnology companies.

NCT spokeswoman Karen Graham told GenomeWeb that $10-12 million has been earmarked for the center in 2001 budget appropriations now before congress.

Candidate member research institutions are currently filing requests for applications. Graham said the participants will be determined in September.

The NCT’s primary goal will be to determine how human genes respond and interact with each other under varying states of health, disease, and exposure to toxicants.  

The center intends to create a public database of both the gene responses to specific toxicants and the corresponding proteins that are synthesized by those genes, Richard Paules, director of toxicological gene expression studies at the NIEHS Microarray Center, said in a statement. This will require development of computer software to manage the toxicogenomics database.

In addition, the center will aim to reduce the amount of time and money spent testing potential carcinogens. “We'll reduce the cost of such studies from $2-3 million to less than $500 dollars,” Kenneth Olden, director of the Institute, said in a statement.

The Human ToxChip, a DNA microarray developed by scientists at the NIEHS Microarray Center, will be the NCT’s primary research tool. The ToxChip uses information from the Human Genome Project to construct genetic " probes" on the chip. These probes identify genes activated by toxicants as distinct from genes that are active under normal conditions.

NCT researchers will use the ToxChip “to compare the pattern of activity of the thousands of genes from a person exposed to a specific toxicant with the pattern of gene expression from a person who hasn't been exposed. “By combining those findings with computer programs developed at NCT, researchers will get a clear picture of a very complex set of genetic and metabolic activities."

NIEHS is now building up a library of ToxChip patterns that will eventually represent all known toxicants.  

The NCT also plans to use studies of functional proteomics to identify biomarkers that may indicate exposure to a specific toxicant.

One NCT research facility is to be located at the NIEHS headquarters in Research Triangle Park, N.C., with other research conducted through a public/private consortium.  

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