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Wash U Genome Institute to Lay off 54 Staffers in Wake of 23 Percent NHGRI Funding Cut

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This article has been updated from a previous version, published Sept. 30, to clarify the status of Genome Institute employees affiliated with Washington University's medical school.

Washington University’s Genome Institute said last week that it has laid off 54 employees, or around 17 percent of its staff, as it anticipates a 23 percent reduction in 2012 funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute's large-scale sequencing program.

Wash U said that it "recently learned" that its NHGRI funding would be reduced from a current level of $37.6 million to about $28 million for the 2012 fiscal year.

The institute's current grant cycle ends Oct. 31 and the layoffs, which will affect "most areas of the Genome Institute, including administration, analysis, assembly, production and informatics," will take effect Nov. 1.

NHGRI funding makes up about 60 percent of the Genome Institute’s annual budget, the university said. It added that "fluctuations in staffing are not unusual" at the center, but the new layoffs represent "the largest number of employees affected at one time."

Wash U is one of three Genome Sequencing and Analysis Centers funded under NHGRI's large scale sequencing program. The other two are the Broad Institute and Baylor College of Medicine's Human Genome Sequencing Center.

Wash U said it "anticipates that all three centers will sustain reductions in NHGRI support and that the Genome Institute will not be disproportionately affected."

A spokesperson for NHGRI said that the agency does not plan to announce the awards for its large-scale sequencing program at this time.

Broad and Baylor have not yet disclosed their anticipated 2012 funding under the program.

The funding cut is in line with a plan NHGRI initially disclosed more than a year ago to reduce funding for the "big three" genome centers and provide new funds for projects related to Mendelian disorders, exploratory clinical sequencing, and sequence analysis software (IS 6/1/2010).

The agency formalized this plan when it renewed the program in late 2010 (IS 12/21/2010). Under the restructured program, NHGRI budgeted $90 million per year for three Genome Sequencing and Analysis Centers, $10 million per year for two Mendelian Disorders Genome Centers, and $5.5 million per year for up to six research projects intended to address "critical questions about the application of genomic sequencing to clinical care of individual patients."

Wash U said that employees affected by the layoffs "will have the opportunity to meet with recruiters who can help find other employment opportunities both inside and outside Washington University." The university has also partnered with the Missouri Career Center to provide assistance with job searches, retraining, career resources, and skill development.

The Wash U Genome Institute changed its name from the Wash U Genome Center earlier this year in order to reflect its increasing focus on clinical applications of sequencing (CSN 5/17/2011).

In line with the name change, several members of the university's medical school faculty, including oncologists, pediatricians, neurologists, immunologists, and infectious disease physicians, became formally affiliated with the Genome Institute.

A Wash U spokesperson said that the salaries of these faculty are not paid by the Genome Institute.

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