NIH Expands Genome Program | December 12, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 50 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 50 | p. 8 | News of The Week
Issue Date: December 12, 2011

NIH Expands Genome Program

Research: Federal sequencing effort shifts funds to clinical applications
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Life Sciences
News Channels: Biological SCENE
Keywords: DNA sequencing, human genome, NIH
Large-scale sequencing centers face less NIH funding for basic research.
Credit: Robert Boston, Washington University in St. Louis
Researchers working in a large scale DNA sequencing lab at the Washington University Genome Institute in St. Louis, MO.
Large-scale sequencing centers face less NIH funding for basic research.
Credit: Robert Boston, Washington University in St. Louis

The National Institutes of Health is broadening its genome-sequencing program to focus more on medical applications. Although most of the program’s budget will fund basic research at three large-scale sequencing centers, nearly one-quarter of the money will be redirected to help push genomics into clinical care.

“There have been some remarkable medical successes for genomics, but genome sequencing has yet to find its way into standard medical practice,” Eric D. Green, director of NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute, said at a Dec. 6 briefing. NHGRI, which runs the federal sequencing program, hopes its future investments in the program will accelerate the realization of genomic medicine, Green noted.

NHGRI plans to maintain its current level of funding for the program and invest $416 million over the next four years, Green said. The bulk of the funding, some 77%, will continue to support basic research at three sequencing centers: the Broad Institute of Harvard University and MIT, the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, and the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine.

The remaining 23%, or about $100 million, will be redirected to support three new priority areas aimed at bringing genome sequencing into routine medical practice. These areas are finding causes of rare, inherited disorders; evaluating the medical, ethical, and societal impacts of using genome sequencing in clinical care; and addressing the bioinformatics bottleneck created by the deluge of sequencing data.

The shift in funds will cut the budgets of the three sequencing centers, but the reductions won’t hit all at once. NHGRI plans to reduce the base funding of each center by about 5% each year over the next four years, NHGRI Deputy Director Mark S. Guyer noted at the briefing. That reduction in funding is expected to coincide with a drop in cost of DNA sequencing.

“We believe the cost of sequencing will continue to decline,” Guyer said. As a result, NHGRI’s sequencing program can maintain its high level of productivity at even lower costs, he noted. As costs drop, money will be redirected to other priorities, he said.

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