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NIH to Award Up to $12M to Fund DNA, RNA Sequencing Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health announced today that it intends to award as much as $12 million in funding over the next three years to research groups developing novel nucleic acid sequencing technologies.

According to the agency, next month it will begin accepting grant applications related to the development of technologies that enable at least one order of magnitude improvement in DNA sequencing, as well as practical methods for direct RNA sequencing.

"Advances in genomics and more broadly in biomedical research have been greatly facilitated by significant and sustained DNA sequencing throughput increases and cost decreases," the NIH said. "The goal now is to improve the quality and efficiency of DNA sequencing and enable direct RNA sequencing at reasonable costs."

Since the 1980s, the cost of DNA sequencing has fallen from tens of dollars per base to a fraction of a cent per base today. Still, the cost of completely sequencing very large numbers of full genomes of individuals or specific cells remains prohibitively high for most investigators, the NIH said.

"We remain far from achieving the low costs and high quality needed to enable the use of comprehensive genomic and transcriptomic sequence information in individual health care," the NIH noted.

As such, it said it aims to fund projects focused on novel chemistries, physical approaches, and instrumentation for DNA and direct RNA sequencing.

In term of DNA sequencing, the agency is seeking methods that generate large numbers of long reads of high quality with a low cost, and is particularly interested in physical or chemical detection methods that yield novel sequence-based insights or solve existing limitation facing the field such as de novo assembly of human genomes, base modification determination, and the complete and quantitative sequencing of all the DNA in a given sample.

When it comes to RNA sequencing, the NIH said it is especially interested in new ways to quantitatively assess the sequence of full-length RNA without a cDNA intermediate. It also seeks applications related to novel approaches to RNA analysis involving, for example, the determination of RNA secondary structural elements as sequencing is performed, or the precise quantification across the entire dynamic range of RNA transcript.

The NIH is using three funding mechanisms to award the grants during fiscal 2016 through fiscal 2018.

Through the first, a basic R01 research project grant, it said it will provide $1.5 million a year to fund one to three new awards per year. Applicants may request annual direct costs of up to $700,000.

Through the second, an R21 exploratory/developmental research grant, the NIH said it intends to award $500,000 each year to fund one to two new awards per year. Applicants may request up to $200,000 a year in direct costs and no more than $400,000 for the entire budget period.

Noting that R21 grants are designed to encourage exploratory and developmental research, the NIH said examples of eligible applications include ones that assess the feasibility of a novel area of investigation or a new experimental system that could potentially enhance nucleic acid sequencing, or ones that are exploring the innovative use of existing methodologies or technologies.

Lastly, the NIH said it will provide funding through R43/R44 Small Business Innovative Research grants, earmarking $2 million in each fiscal year to fund between three and nine projects. Total funding for Phase I grants is limited to $150,000, with funding capped at $1 million for Phase II awards.

Additional information about the funding opportunities can be found here, here, and here.