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NCRR Awards $4M for Shared HTP Sequencers in FY’09, More Stimulus Funding Available in 2010

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By Julia Karow

The National Center for Research Resources awarded almost $3.9 million in funding for nine high-throughput DNA sequencers under its Shared Instrumentation Program in fiscal 2009, In Sequence has learned. The awards were made earlier this year, most of them with a start date of April or May.

The number of high-throughput DNA sequencers granted this year under the program, which provides NIH-funded researchers shared research equipment in the $100,000 to $500,000 price range, is three times higher than last year and reflects the growing penetration of next-generation sequencing into universities and research institutions other than large genome centers.

Some sequencing instrumentation vendors confirm this trend. Illumina, for example, said last week that it continues to see "broad adoption" of its Genome Analyzer, and that more than 80 percent of the systems it shipped during the second quarter went to customers outside of large genome centers (see other article in this issue), compared with two-thirds during the same period a year ago.

This year's SIG awards for DNA sequencers went to researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York; Stanford University; Yale University; the University of California, San Diego; Cornell University; Brigham and Women's Hospital; Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; the University of California, Irvine; and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

No awards for DNA sequencers were made under NCRR's High-End Instrumentation program this year, which provides research equipment that costs between $750,000 and $2 million.

The majority of this year's grantees requested Illumina Genome Analyzers: According to the grant abstracts, which the researchers submitted with their applications in early 2008, seven of the grantees, or almost 80 percent, asked for this instrument platform, while two did not specify a type of sequencer.

However, this does not necessarily mean that those seven grantees will indeed purchase a Genome Analyzer. Researchers can request to buy a different type or version of sequencer with their award that might not have been commercially available at the time they wrote their application. For example, they might decide to acquire an Applied Biosystems SOLiD instead of a Genome Analyzer.

In total, the SIG program made 159 awards in fiscal 2009, of which 68 used funding provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, according to NCRR Program Director Marjorie Tingle. Six percent of the awards, or nine, were for DNA sequencers; three of these were made with stimulus funding.

Applications for many different types of equipment compete for funding under the program. For example, in 2007 and 2008 the program awarded $19.3 million for confocal microscopes, $18.1 million for biomedical imagers, $14 million for mass spectrometers, $6.5 million for DNA sequencers, $5.4 million for NMR machines, $5.1 million for cell sorters, and $3.6 million for electron microscopes, according to the NCRR website.

Stimulus Windfall

Next year, even more DNA sequencers than this year could potentially be awarded under the program as a result of a block of stimulus funding.

Normally, the SIG and HEI programs have a total of about $60 million in funding available each fiscal year, according to Tingle. ARRA funds provided an additional $300 million or so to NCRR for shared instrumentation awards under the two programs, most of which will be made in fiscal year 2010, she said.

However, the total number of awards to be made next year is unknown, and some awards under the HEI program might be higher than usual, since the center raised the funding ceiling from $2 million to $8 million.

"It was a one-time opportunity to see if there were things out there that are over $2 million, and to be able, with this bolus of money, to perhaps fund a few of them," Tingle explained.

Also, researchers may not find it easier to receive an award in 2010 compared with previous years since the competition for stimulus funding is considerable. NCRR received about six times more applications for the two programs this spring than during the same period in prior years, according to Tingle: Almost 2,000 researchers applied under the SIG program, and more than 800 under the HEI program, while NCRR normally receives about 350 applications under SIG and 100 under HEI per year.

From fiscal year 1997 to 2009, the SIG program has made 1,638 awards totaling more than $513 million, according to the NCRR website. Under the HEI program, NCRR made 125 awards and two supplements since 2002, totaling $195 million.

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