NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) –The Ontario Genomics Institute said today that it has awarded C$200,000 ($196,000) in new funding to four high-impact, high-risk genomics research projects.
The new grants under OGI's SPARK program, which provide C$50,000 to each investigative team, will fund four projects at the University of Toronto to develop new instrumentation, software, and reagents that can have an impact on genomics research.
"We received over 40 applications for our SPARK grants, all demonstrating creative and imaginative research ideas," OGI President and CEO Mark Poznansky said in a statement. "We launched this program to support Ontario's researchers and their work that might not be readily funded by other programs, or viewed as too risky or lacking preliminary results. All recipients demonstrated innovative ideas that have clear potential to impact the way genomics research is carried out, as well as produce significant results."
In one project, two investigators plan to develop a software program called MedSavant that will enable DNA to be analyzed quickly for mutations that may be involved in disease development. The software will be a specialized search engine for patient information, medical observations, and genome sequencing data, which will make discovery of disease origin and analysis more accessible to geneticists and physicians. At the end of the six-month project the investigators plan to have a software prototype that will be used at the Centre for Applied Genomics at the Hospital for Sick Children.
Another study will aim to develop a prototype for automated pronuclear injection, which is commonly used to inject genetic material into mouse embryos and enables gene function and regulation studies that model human diseases. An automated pronuclear injection system using computer vision microscopy with robotic controls, such as this project proposes to develop over the next year, would enable researchers to eliminate difficult and time-consuming steps.
A third investigator will seek to develop a new way of swiftly identifying small cyclic protein fragments that can be used as cell-permeable probes of protein function and for developing new therapeutic agents. This technology will aim to overcome a roadblock in using peptides to develop therapeutic agents that is caused by their instability in the bloodstream and the difficulty in getting them to enter cells.
Another team will use the funding to build a new internet-accessible portal that medical researchers can use to study how DNA mutations affect RNA splicing and the genetic determinants of disease. The researchers will build on their earlier work to develop a tool for predicting tissue-dependent splicing and associated genomic features, and seek to make available a catalogue of novel functional sites and combinations of RNA features available to the biological and medical communities.