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NIH Amps Up Funding to BCM For Involvement In Human Microbiome Project

June 23, 2009

The National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov) today announced expanded funding for Baylor College of Medicine’s (www.bcm.edu) Human Genome Sequencing Center for its involvement in the Human Microbiome Project, which seeks to understand how the trillions of microscopic organisms that live in or on the human body affect human health and lives.

Also announced was that BCM’s Dr. James Versalovic (http://www.bcm.edu/cmb/?pmid=2446) will lead one of 15 pilot clinical demonstration projects.

The Human Genome Sequencing Center at BCM was one of the centers that took part in the initial phase of the project. This new $3.7 million four-year expansion grant will enable it along with the other original designated centers ““ Washington University Genome Sequencing Center in St. Louis, Mo., and the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md. ““ to sequence the genomes of 400 microbes to add to the 500 whose sequences are already complete or nearing completion.

The data will help researchers characterize the microbial communities found in samples from five areas of the body: digestive tract, mouth, skin, nose and vagina.

Federal officials said they expect that the Broad Institute of MIT/Harvard in Cambridge Mass., which was part of the initial phase, will take part in this phase of the project as well.

“This is an exciting phase of this transformative project,” said Dr. Richard Gibbs, director of BCM’s Human Genome Sequencing Center and principal investigator of the Human Microbiome Project study center at BCM. “The Human Genome Sequencing Center (at BCM) will be participating in the first deep understanding of the role of complex microbial communities in human biology.”

In addition, Versalovic, professor of pathology, pediatrics, molecular and human genetics, and molecular virology and microbiology at BCM, head of the department of pathology at Texas Children’s Hospital (www.texaschildrens.org), and a co-investigator in the College’s microbiome project, has received one of 15 pilot clinical demonstration projects awarded nationally. Dr. Robert Shulman, professor of pediatrics at BCM, will co-lead the project with Versalovic.

His project on pediatric irritable bowel syndrome was funded at $750,000 for one year after which it will be reviewed for renewal.

“These pilot studies represent the first grants in this project connecting the human microbiome with health and disease,” said Versalovic, also director of the Texas Children’s Microbiome Center “The award enables us to gain an inside track on more translational microbiome-related projects in the future.”

Other researchers involved in the BCM part of the project include Dr. Wendy Keitel, associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology, Dr. Sarah Highlander, associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology, and Dr. Joseph Petrosino, assistant professor of molecular virology and microbiology.

For more information about the Human Microbiome Project, visit www.nihroadmap.nih.gov/hmp/ and www.hmpdacc.org.

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