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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Learning to Turn Genes On and Off

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), both part of the National Institutes of Health, today announced grants expected to total approximately $45 million to establish new Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science in Wisconsin and North Carolina, as well as to continue support of existing centers in Maryland and California.

The Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science program, begun in 2001 by NHGRI, assembles interdisciplinary teams dedicated to making critical advances in genomic research. The new center that will be co-led by the Medical College of Wisconsin and University of Wisconsin-Madison will receive about $8 million over three years. The new center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill will receive about $8.6 million over five years. The existing center at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles will receive about $12 million over five years and the existing center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore will receive about $16.8 million over five years.

NHGRI will provide funding to all four centers. The first two years of the University of North Carolina center will be funded by NIMH, which will contribute about $6 million through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In addition, NIMH will also provide approximately $1.7 million, in non-Recovery funds, of the total funding awarded to the Johns Hopkins center.

"Our aim is to foster the formation of innovative research teams that will develop genomic tools and technologies that help to advance human health," said Alan E. Guttmacher, M.D., NHGRI's acting director. "Each of these centers is in a position to tackle some of the most challenging questions facing biology today."

For example, the new Center for Integrated Systems Genetics at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill will strive to develop new approaches for identifying genetic and environmental factors that underlie and contribute to impairments associated with psychiatric disorders. The team, led by Fernando Pardo Manuel de Villena, Ph.D., will integrate the study of genetics and neurobehavior using unique strains of laboratory mice to define the genetic and environmental factors that occur in human psychiatric conditions.

To validate this approach, researchers will then generate novel strains of mice to study relevant behavioral traits. The resulting predictive mouse models could then be used as a resource by the scientific community in subsequent genetic and genomic studies focused on human psychiatric disorders and other health conditions as well as predicting treatment outcomes in relevant human populations.

"NIMH is pleased to partner with NHGRI and to be able to support this innovative study with funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. "These sophisticated genetic models will provide new opportunities to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and to make progress toward understanding how genes shape behavior."

The new Wisconsin Center of Excellence in Genomics Science will be co-led by Michael Olivier, Ph.D., Medical College of Wisconsin and Lloyd M. Smith, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison and include researchers from both institutions, as well as Marquette University in Milwaukee.

This research team will focus on developing novel technology for the comprehensive characterization and quantitative analysis of proteins interacting with DNA in order to facilitate understanding of the complex and integrated regulatory mechanisms that turn genes on and off.

Rather than using the traditional approach of identifying the DNA sequences where regulatory factors bind, these researchers plan to develop novel technologies that identify the proteins that bind to particular DNA regions. Through this approach, the team may be able to identify entirely new regulatory proteins. The researchers' ultimate goal is to develop a toolbox that can be used to better understand the relationship between changes in protein-DNA interactions and the underlying complex machinery controlling genes.

Read it all here.

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