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NHGRI Technology Development Programs Blaze Forward

October 4, 2016

I frequently boast of the accomplishments of the NHGRI Advanced Sequencing Technology Program, often referred to as the $1000 Genome Program. In fact, I am on record as saying that - in my opinion - it is the most successful technology development program in NIH history. As an example, such glowing accolades were heard out of my mouth a couple of weeks ago at the 78th meeting of the National Advisory Council on Human Genome Research.

Simply stated, the $1000 Genome Program has been spectacularly catalytic in advancing the development and refinement of new genome sequencing technologies. The fruits of multiple rounds of grant awards aimed at stimulating technology development in this area have helped to create the various new 'next-generation' DNA sequencing platforms that are now available. The field is in striking distance of truly achieving a '$1000 Genome.' Despite this collective accomplishment, NHGRI is not backing off in supporting genome sequencing technology development.


Technology Development Program

In 2015, NHGRI paused to take stock of the state of genome analysis technologies (DNA sequencing and other) in order to chart a path forward for future technology development efforts. We solicited input from the research community to guide our strategic thinking, which yielded concrete recommendations to support additional research in two main areas:  DNA and RNA sequencing technologies and novel genomic technologies.

After generation of Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs), grant application receipt, peer review, and budget deliberations, NHGRI funded the first round of grants for Novel Nucleic Acid Sequencing Technology Development and Novel Genomic Technology Development. Both of these have an emphasis on pushing the genomics field to take big, bold steps.

The Novel Nucleic Acid Sequencing Technology Development program aims to develop new DNA and direct RNA sequencing technologies capable of yielding long read lengths at high accuracy and low cost. Recent awards were made to six investigators for a total of $6.75 million. Of note, this program is now funding technology development for direct RNA sequencing - a new area for NHGRI. For more information on these awards, see genome.gov/27566794/2016-News-Feature-NIH-commits-67-million-to-advance-DNA-RNA-sequencing-technology.

The Novel Genomic Technology Development program aims to catalyze investigator-initiated genomic technology development that will advance genomics research within five to seven years. The program hopes to enable a wide swath of genomic technology development, including single-cell methods, transcriptome analysis, and functional genomics. NHGRI hopes to accelerate scientific discovery by challenging researchers to stretch themselves in bringing forward completely novel ways of analyzing genomes and genome function. It is notable that the Novel Genomic Technology Development grants encourage researchers to put together teams of scientists from fields outside of genomics, such as bioengineering, to take on risky projects. Such efforts help to open up lines of communication among different scientific communities. Recent awards were made to seven investigators for a total of $10.4 million.


Novel Genomic Technology Development Program

Though excited about these recent awards, I am also pleased to report that these are just the first sets of grants. The FOA for Novel Nucleic Acid Sequencing Technology Development is still active; a second set of applications has been received, and there is an upcoming application due date for the third set in June 2017. The FOA for Novel Genome Technology Development is also active, with upcoming applications for a second set due on October 31, 2016.

By continuing support for technology development, NHGRI aims to foster innovations that will continue moving genomics forward. With these two new programs, we are re-upping our commitment to technology development as a core element of NHGRI's genomics research portfolio.
 

Posted: November 1, 2016