In June, we will pause to celebrate the 10th anniversary of having a draft human genome sequence; at the same time, we will reflect how this accomplishment was barely the beginning of the genomic era, and how we can shape a future that uses genomics to improve human health.
The federal government created the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) for an initial single purpose — to lead the Human Genome Project (HGP). This historic project began in October 1990 — 20 years ago; we'll celebrate that milestone, too, later this year. Because of the highly focused nature of the HGP objectives, NHGRI produced regular "strategic plans" to ensure that the project stayed on track. These plans were published in 1991, 1993 and 1998. They were very different from typical research proposals because they set objectives and formal production goals.
At the completion of the HGP in 2003, NHGRI released its most recent strategic plan; this one provided a more open-ended "blueprint" for the future of genomics, describing opportunities made possible by having in hand a complete human genome sequence.
Seven years later, it is time to develop a new strategic blueprint. Many goals proposed in the 2003 plan have been accomplished, while others are still being pursued. Meanwhile, new scientific opportunities (and challenges) have appeared on the horizon. We have started to understand the genetic contributions to common diseases, but also have encountered unexpected complexities. We have developed new DNA sequencing technologies that have greatly reduced the cost for sequencing a human genome, but data management and analysis have quickly become bottlenecks.
To organize NHGRI's vision for capitalizing on these new opportunities and for addressing these challenges, we aim to develop a new strategic plan for genomics by the end of 2010. There are multiple components to the planning process leading up to the generation of this plan, all of which are summarized at www.genome.gov/planning. We intend to unveil a draft version of this new strategy at a major gathering of leaders in the field in July, aiming to get their critical feedback and suggestions prior to publication of a final version by the end of the year. Our goal is to have a robust new strategic plan that will guide genomics research and genomic medicine for most of the second decade of the 21st century.
To bring a celebratory end to this exciting and busy 2010, NHGRI will host a major symposium in December to reflect on the last 20 years of genomic accomplishments and to showcase our new strategic plan. Despite 2010 being my 'rookie year' as NHGRI director, it is apparent that the institute is spectacularly busy. Such is the norm for the genomics era!
Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D.
National Human Genome Research Institute
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Last Reviewed: February 25, 2012