NHGRI Announces Initial Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science Awards

September 2001

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) has made the initial awards under its new Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science (CEGS) program. The CEGS program is designed to encourage the development of new academic centers to pursue advanced genome research on the basis of the extensive DNA sequence information and new technologies that have been developed by the Human Genome Project (HGP) to date.

Each CEGS grant supports a multi-investigator, interdisciplinary team that will pursue and develop new, innovative genomic approaches to address important biological and biomedical research problems. The CEGS program is thus a challenge by the NHGRI to the entire biomedical research community to develop highly novel and innovative research projects that have the potential to substantially change the way in which genomics is both done and used in biomedicine.

Each CEGS center will develop new methods, technologies, algorithms, software, and/or concepts for the generation and use of genomic data. The CEGS grants are different from previous NHGRI center grants because the primary objective of the CEGS centers is research, not data production. Through the approaches and concepts they generate, the CEGS centers will improve the ability of the broader biomedical research community to collect, analyze and use genomic datasets.

The initial CEGS grants were made to the University of Washington (where the Principal Investigators for two separate grants are Deirdre Meldrum and Maynard Olson) and Yale University (Michael Snyder, P.I.).

Deirdre Meldrum is in the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Washington. Nearly a dozen investigators from eight different laboratories at the University and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in a variety of fields including chemistry, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, bioengineering, nanotechnology, microbiology and laboratory medicine will design, build and test integrated and automated microsystems for the study and analysis of individual cells. This will require detection methods that can be pushed to the single-molecule level. The microsystems will be modular, with the ability to integrate multiple measurements of biological activity in real time. The major research problems to be addressed are the automated detection of rare cells in cell populations, and real-time analysis of metabolism in individual cells. Driving these underlying developments will be several specific applications, including:

  • Analyzing protein expression in single yeast cells.
  • Detecting and correlating cell size with protein and metabolite levels in Methylobacterium.
  • Isolating DNA from sorted diploid, polyploid, and aneuploid cells derived from biopsy samples.
  • Quantifying variant cell surface and viral proteins expressed on individual T cells during HIV infection.
  • Defining the molecular pathway of macrophage destruction by Salmonella.

The new tools created from this research will enable a deeper understanding of the underlying causes, and lead to new diagnostic approaches, for diseases ranging from infection to cancer.

Maynard Olson's group at the University of Washington will develop methods to study genetic variation and will apply these methods to study the biology of several human gene regions. The technologies to be developed will efficiently identify the genetic variants from many individuals in large, targeted genomic regions. The center will also develop the computational tools to analyze the patterns of variation in gene regions. These technological and analytic tools will allow many other researchers to discover and use the patterns of genetic variation to understand the genetics of diseases and other important biological phenomena. The particular regions of the human genome to be examined include:

  • The HLA class II region, which is important for the immune response, to study its association with Type I diabetes.
  • The tau, DARC, and KIR gene regions, to study how the patterns of genetic variation have been affected by selection related to disease.
  • The ELA2 gene region, to study the mutation process that results in the disease neutropenia.

The technologies and analytical methods developed by this CEGS will lead to a better understanding of the genetic contributions to human health and disease.

Michael Snyder and his colleagues at Yale University will pursue the development of DNA arrays of human chromosomes and novel technologies to exploit these arrays for the functional analysis of the human genome. The new methods and the human DNA arrays are expected to greatly facilitate investigation of biological questions on a genomic scale; this project can be thought of as developing tools to study genome geography. In this CEGS center, Dr. Snyder will build on his group's experience in the exploitation of yeast arrays to develop successful approaches to the study of the much larger and much more complex human genome. He has brought together an outstanding team of experienced investigators who will each bring a different expertise to bear on the specific problems being queried. In the course of their work, the investigators will exploit the arrays to examine:

  • RNA transcription
  • Binding sites of chromosomal proteins
  • DNA replication
  • Genetic mutations and variation

Each of these new CEGS centers will continue NHGRI's practice of rapid data release, to provide the technologies, methods, data and programs they generate to the scientific community as quickly as possible. The centers also have substantial programs for training new investigators and bringing together established investigators from different disciplines to develop truly novel genomics tools and discoveries, and infuse genomics thinking more firmly across biomedical research. In particular, the CEGS centers will be critical links in the NHGRI program to better develop the intellectual resources of the underrepresented minority communities.

The CEGS program is a centerpiece of the NHGRI-supported research program. NHGRI plans to establish a total of about ten CEGS at a rate of three or four grants each year over a three-year period. Recently received applications will be reviewed this fall and considered at the February 2002 Council meeting. The next application receipt is June 3, 2002. A revised program announcement will be published in the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts this fall, and will describe opportunities to apply for CEGS center grants and planning grants. Potential applicants are encouraged to contact NHGRI program staff to discuss their plans prior to submitting an application.

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Last Reviewed: September 2006