This article has been updated to clarify David Galas' role in the project.
NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The principal investigator and manager of the Institute for Systems Biology's half of the $200 million biomedical initiative involving the government of Luxembourg and US research institutes offered an update this week on two of the projects that comprise the partnership.
David Galas, who manages $100 million in Luxembourg projects as ISB's senior vice president for strategic partnerships, told GenomeWeb Daily News this week the initiative has already sequenced 50 blood proteins from the liver alone.
ISB is one of the four US institutes involved in the partnership with Luxembourg
"We've gotten pretty far with the liver specific protein assays in the blood, and are working on lung and brain specific proteins," Galas said, and added that in six months to a year, the partners should have between 100 and 150 blood proteins.
During the project's first year, "about the order of 25 to 30 organ-specific" blood proteins from the brain, liver, and lungs, were generated through a sequence analysis carried out on the genomes of a family of four with a genetic disease, ISB Co-Founder and President Leroy Hood told GWDN in February.
Also this year, Galas said, the collaboration plans to analyze genome sequences of 120 people from families with several neurodegenerative diseases by the end of this year, with the goal of identifying modifier genes that alter the phenotypes of those diseases.
"Next year, I think we'll probably at least double that, probably more. I would say by this time next year, there will be several hundred in our computer banks being analyzed," Galas said. "And after that, it could be in the thousands, depending on what the cost and speeds are."
That figure is above the 100 individuals from families with Huntington's disease anticipated by Hood earlier this year.
"How many will be Huntington's is unclear. Probably in the range of 50 to 60 by the end of this year, and we'll continue on depending on what we're able to learn," Galas said. "Our goal is still to do 100 [individuals from families with] Huntington's, but that could change."
He said the collaboration has begun looking at genomes from people in families with congenital heart defects, and will gather data on several other neurodegenerative diseases.
The initiative was announced in 2008 and began work last year, with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg intent on growing its personalized medicine capabilities. The initiative includes creating a biobank, a tissue repository, two molecular biology research projects, and a third project focused on earlier detection and treatment of lung cancer.
In addition to Luxembourg and ISB, the collaboration involves the Translational Genomics Research Institute, or TGen, and the Partnership for Personalized Medicine, which consists of TGen, as well as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.
Galas said the pace of work will require ISB to hire a dozen researchers over the next several years — of which about half will join the institute in the coming year. The dozen will be trained for two years at ISB, then head overseas to work at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine, an interdisciplinary research center under construction at the University of Luxembourg's new Esch-Belval campus.
LCSB marked the completion of structural work on its new building last month, with the first scientists expected to start work there by the late summer of 2011, center Director Rudi Balling said in a statement.
"If all that works well, my guess is that that kind of flux will continue, and we'll expand that program," Galas said.
The six Luxembourg-focused employees to be hired over the coming year are among 30 new employees anticipated to join ISB between now and April 2011. That is when the institute plans to vacate its current headquarters and a nearby site, and move within Seattle to a single consolidated site — the former Merck/Rosetta Inpharmatics building in the city's South Lake Union section. At 140,000 square feet, the new headquarters will have about double the space of the current 65,000-square-foot HQ and nearby 16,000-square-foot site that houses offices for several administrators and ISB's education group.
The move was made necessary in part by the need to accommodate new hires for the Luxembourg initiative and other research collaborations ISB plans to undertake over the next decade.