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September 5, 2001

UW receives two major grants for human genome research

News and Information

The University of Washington has received two five-year grants of $15 million each from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) for inaugurating the next phase of research into understanding how the human genome functions.

The institute made just three grants in its new Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science (CEGS) program. The third grant was to awarded to Yale University.

“Scientists working on the Human Genome Project have laid out the first draft of the DNA sequence for all people,” says Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. “The Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science program will support the very best and most innovative ways to understand the secrets locked in our genes, and that should benefit biomedical research.”

The completion of the sequencing of the human genome has opened up many new areas of study. But for this vast array of biological information to be useful, scientists need to develop new research tools, approaches and capabilities. These new centers, involving teams of investigators from a variety of fields, are to take a leadership role in this next phase of genomic research.

“The University of Washington is thrilled to receive these grants,” said UW Provost Lee Huntsman. “We are gratified that, in this extremely competitive area, UW scientists have developed innovative proposals for advancing human genome research that were judged to be the very best in the country.”

One center will be created within the College of Engineering. Its co-directors are Deirdre Meldrum, professor of electrical engineering and adjunct professor of bioengineering, and Mary Lidstrom, associate dean for new initiatives in the College of Engineering and Jungers professor of chemical engineering. The goal of this center is to develop modular microscale devices, built from a hybrid integration of state-of-the-art manufacturing methods with key technologies drawing directly from those used to manufacture integrated circuits (computer chips). These Microsystems will detect and analyze how, when and why very small populations of living cells interact with each other and their environment in real time. This work will have applications in helping to understand fundamental cellular processes, such as metabolism and infection. It also has potential use in helping to diagnose diseases such as cancer.

The other center is directed by Maynard Olson, director of the UW Genome Center, professor of genetics and medicine, and adjunct professor of computer science. This center is studying how one person’s genome is different from another person’s, and how those differences affect their health. The long-term goal of this research is to bring the cost for sequencing the entire human genome down from hundreds of millions of dollars, which was the cost of the Human Genome Project, to hundreds of dollars, so that an individual’s genetic sequence can become part of a person’s routine medical record.

While the centers are funded for an initial five-year period, the centers’ grants may be renewed for an additional five years.