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NIH to Fund Research on Alcohol-related Biomarkers

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism aims to fund small businesses and support the technology transfer of new biomarkers that can be used to detect alcohol-related organ damage and fetal exposure to alcohol, according to a new NIAAA grant notice.

NIAAA plans to fund the program with $2 million in 2011 for Small Business Innovation Research grants and $500,000 for Small Business Technology Transfer grants.

The aim of the program is to use a range of high-throughput technologies to cultivate new prognostic and diagnostic biomarker signatures and markers for response to clinical treatment and monitoring abstinence in high-risk individuals.

The SBIR grants will support up to $200,000 in total costs for up to one year for Phase I, and up to $1.5 million in total costs per year for Phase II funding spread over three years. The STTR grants will provide for budgets up to $200,000 in total costs for up to one year.

According to NIAAA, there is a need for several classes of biomarkers that can be used in strategies to prevent, diagnose, and treat alcohol-induced diseases, including markers for cumulative alcohol consumption; markers that distinguish between moderate drinking, binge drinking, and chronic drinking; and markers that distinguish relapse from previous alcohol consumption. The institute also sees a need for markers for a range of alcohol-related tissue damage, such as brain damage, alcoholic liver disease, cancer, pancreatitis, fetal abnormalities, and others.

NIAAA also figures that between 20 and 40 percent of hospital admissions are alcohol-related, as many as 1 percent of newborns suffer from problems caused by alcohol exposure before birth, one in four children under 18 are exposed to family alcohol problems, and roughly 80,000 Americans die annually due to alcohol-related events.

To be useful, the institute said biomarkers and biomarker-based tests must be sensitive, reproducible, affordable, transportable, reliable, and the samples must be easy to collect and obtain from serum, plasma, urine, saliva, or hair. In particular, NIAAA wants some biomarker technologies to be sensitive enough to catch the presence of alcohol or early evidence of alcohol consumption or tissue injury.

NIAAA suggested in its notice that high-throughput technologies that use genomics, proteomics, epigenomics, metabolomics, and other approaches to discover and analyze molecular signatures are powerful platforms for discovering markers for alcohol consumption patterns or alcohol-induced organ damage.

Of specific interest for this program are small business-based "efforts for improvements in the biomarker pipeline, including discovery, validation, prioritization, development, and implementation to real world settings," according to NIAAA.

These could include improving the predictive value of alcohol biomarkers that are already in use or the discovery of new biomarker signatures with better sensitivity and specificity.

The institute also wants to encourage collaborations between alcohol researchers and small businesses with expertise related to its main areas of interest, but principal investigators are not required to be active alcohol researchers.

NIAAA's topics of interest include, but are not limited to, identifying biomarker signatures of alcohol consumption in animals and humans using high-throughput technologies; identification of biomarker signatures for alcohol-induced organ damage; evaluation of biomarkers to improve sensitivity; development of assays for emerging biomarkers; development of new bioinformatic and computational tools; development of animal models of alcohol consumption and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.