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UW Wins $15M in NIAID Funds for Non-Human Primate Genomics Core

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The University of Washington has reeled in a $15 million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to create a genomics core that will be a national resource of nonhuman primate genomes and support research into AIDS vaccines.

The UW Non-Human Primate Core Functional Genomics Lab for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development will collaborate with Illumina to conduct next-generation sequencing to create comprehensive non-human primate (NHP) reference transcriptome databases, UW said in its grant application.

These databases will contain vast amounts of data on NHP gene and transcript structure, expression, and regulation, as well as protein-coding, and long and small noncoding transcripts. Investigators working on AIDS vaccines will use this resource for a range of studies into evolution, comparative biology, genetics, genomics, and to develop NHP models of human disease.

The lab also will use its Genome Analyzer to generate a tissue-specific transcriptome for the rhesus macaque.

"The AIDS vaccine field is in need of new approaches. The methods we use allow us to understand the gene expression changes that correlate with vaccine efficacy and will help to design better vaccines," principal investigator Michael Katze, a UW professor of microbiology, said in a statement.

The UW lab will be the fourth NIAID Simian Vaccine Evaluation Units Core Lab, and will receive specimens from NHP studies conducted by these other units, which include a Viral RNA Core, a Humoral Immunology Core, and a Cellular Immunology Core.

The lab will use methods developed by UW microbiologist Robert Palermo that enable investigators to examine many genes at one time and to create a profile of the transcription information in an organism's genome. Analyses of these profiles could point to gene signatures that suggest whether a vaccine may protect against HIV.

"The work will inform not only the efforts of individual investigators, but will result in a compendium of such data across many studies and conditions," Palermo said. "This will enable sophisticated computational approaches that are dependent on having very large amounts of data, and ideally will lead to insights not accessible with the results of a single study."

Illumina will perform the sequencing to generate the whole transcriptome data for 14 NHP species and subspecies at no extra cost, UW said. Most of these NHP genomes are expected to be sequenced within the year.