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NIH Earmarks $1.5M to Fund Human Microbiome Research Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health last week announced that it has set aside $1.5 million to fund projects exploring functional interactions between the human gut microbiome and host interactions in disease and nutrition.

The funding opportunity, NIH said, is open to investigators performing basic research, as well as clinical and translational studies. Project periods may run up to two years with budgets of up to $275,000 in direct costs over both years.

In 2008, NIH established the Human Microbiome Project, which is developing technologies and resources for the characterization of the human microbiome and its role in health and disease, including reference genomes for a planned 3,000 bacteria, viruses, and eukaryotic microbes isolated from human body sites. At the same time, there have been a growing number of publications studying the microbiome in various pathophysiological contexts.

Still, there is a "general lack in understanding on the mechanistic and functional characterization of host-microbiome interactions that may further advance our knowledge on the role of gut microbiome in human health and disease," according to NIH.

Specific areas where knowledge is lacking include the metabolic and pathway interdependence  of bacterial species among each other and their collective dependence on host metabolism; the minimal bacterial populations that impact host metabolism; and target host metabolic pathways that are responsive to microbiome mediated physiological manipulations.

It is also critical to understand the influence of dietary components on the microbiome, define the nutrient-nutrient interactions and the role of nutrition in the pathophysiology of disease, and to characterize novel microbial generated bioactive metabolites that impact pathophysiology, NIH said.

Knowledge gained from such studies will enable a better appreciation of the role of the microbiome in pathophysiology, help predict the onset of diseases such as those of the digestive tract and liver, assess therapeutic interventions for such conditions, and potentially develop new treatment and prevention strategies, the agency added.

To that end, NIH said it aims to fund between four and six projects during fiscal years 2016 and 2017 centered around the discovery of functional elements of host-microbiota interactions that modulate specific host phenotypes related to obesity, digestive and liver diseases, and the role of microbiome in nutrition.

Projects appropriate for this funding opportunity include, but are not limited to, the development of phenotypic assays to screen the human gastrointestinal microbiome or components of the human microbiome; the creation of genetic screens to identify functional elements of human-associated microbial strains or model communities that modulate host gut and/or microbial phenotypes; and the exploration of microbiome on nutrient-nutrient interactions that play a role in the pathophysiology of digestive or liver diseases and obesity.

Applications for awards are due by Oct. 15, 2015 for projects beginning in fiscal 2016 and by Oct. 19, 2016 for those beginning in fiscal 2017. Additional details about the funding opportunity can be found here.