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NIH Earmarks $37.6M to Fund Nucleome Research, Pediatric Sequencing Data Programs

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health announced today that it has launched two new programs under its Common Fund program to support the development of technologies for nucleome research and to build a data resource containing pediatric disease sequencing data, respectively.

These awards, which total $37.6 million in fiscal year 2015, "aim to provide catalytic support to areas of research that no one institute or center at NIH would be able to address on its own" James Anderson, director of the NIH's Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, said in a statement. "With this support, we hope to capitalize on recent scientific advances to create resources and opportunities that will transform and accelerate these areas of research."

With the new 4D Nucleome Program, the NIH aims to improve understanding of the principles that underlie nuclear organization spatially and temporally, the role of this organization in gene expression and cellular function, and how changes affect normal development and influence disease. 

The NIH said it has committed roughly $25 million to support a consortium of researchers focused on advancing the program's six initiatives. These include the development and validation of new methods to understand nuclear organization and its role in gene expression, as well as the development of novel genome-wide mapping technologies; the development of chemical and biochemical tools for measuring three-dimensional interactions between specific genes or between genomic loci and regulators of genome organization and function; and the creation of tools and strategies to investigate the three-dimensional architecture of the nucleus in relationship to nuclear bodies and molecular machinery regulating gene expression, the structure and function of poorly characterized nuclear structures and compartments, and the role of specialized proteins and RNAs in nuclear organization and function.

The 4D Nucleome Program is also tasked with developing imaging tools to measure changes in nuclear organization in living single cells; the establishment of a community website to facilitate the sharing of data, reagents, and protocols between consortium investigators; and the creation of a system to track, store, and display all data generated under the program.

Under the program thus far, the NIH said it has funded an 29 projects at 24 different institutions, which are being overseen by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Among the grants made under the program are a five-year grant, worth $3.4 million in its first year, to University of Massachusetts Medical School investigators for the establishment of a center for research into the three-dimensional structure and physics of the genome; and a five-year grant, worth about $750,000 in the first year, to a California Institute of Technology group to study the function and mechanisms of long, non-coding RNAs in nuclear compartment organization. 

Additional details about the specific awards can be found here.

Through the second program, the Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program, the NIH is funding efforts to develop a well-curated collection of clinical and genetic sequence data for identifying genetic pathways driving specific pediatric conditions, with an initial focus on childhood cancers and structural birth defects.

With funds allocated to the NIH under the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, which was enacted by President Barack Obama in 2014, the agency has awarded the sequencing centers at the Baylor College of Medicine and Washington University $6.3 million each in fiscal year 2015 to begin generating data for the program. The grants are being overseen by the National Human Genome Research Institute.

As additional funds become available in future years, the NIH said it expects to expand the pediatric research program to include additional analyses and data coordination efforts to enable the identification of molecular networks that may link ostensibly unrelated childhood disorders.

The NIH also said that the Common Fund will provide around $10 million to 23 research teams participating in the Glycoscience Program and $7 million for participants in the Science of Behavior Change Program.