The US government's National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) is allocating $38.4 million dollars over the next few years to development of cheaper DNA sequencing technologies (and FuturePundit thinks this is still too little, too late).
BETHESDA, Md., Thurs., Oct. 14, 2004 – The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), today announced it has awarded more than $38 million in grants to spur the development of innovative technologies designed to dramatically reduce the cost of DNA sequencing, a move aimed at broadening the applications of genomic information in medical research and health care.
NHGRI's near-term goal is to lower the cost of sequencing a mammalian-sized genome to $100,000, which would enable researchers to sequence the genomes of hundreds or even thousands of people as part of studies to identify genes that contribute to cancer, diabetes and other common diseases. Ultimately, NHGRI's vision is to cut the cost of whole-genome sequencing to $1,000 or less, which would enable the sequencing of individual genomes as part of medical care. The ability to sequence each person's genome cost-effectively could give rise to more individualized strategies for diagnosing, treating and preventing disease. Such information could enable doctors to tailor therapies to each person's unique genetic profile.
DNA sequencing costs have fallen more than 100-fold over the past decade, fueled in large part by tools, technologies and process improvements developed as part of the successful effort to sequence the human genome. However, it still costs at least $10 million to sequence 3 billion base pairs – the amount of DNA found in the genomes of humans and other mammals.
"These grants will open the door to the next generation of sequencing technologies. There are still many opportunities to reduce the cost and increase the throughput of DNA sequencing, as well as to develop smaller, faster sequencing technologies that meet a wider range of needs," said NHGRI Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "Dramatic reductions in sequencing costs will lead to very different approaches to biomedical research and, eventually, will revolutionize the practice of medicine."
In the first set of grants, 11 teams will work to develop "near term" technologies that, within five years, are expected to provide the power to sequence a mammalian-sized genome for about $100,000. In the second set, seven groups will take on the longer-term challenge of developing revolutionary technologies to realize the vision of sequencing a human genome for $1,000 or less. The approaches pursued by both sets of grants have many complementary elements that integrate biochemistry, chemistry and physics with engineering to enhance the whole effort to develop the next generation of DNA sequencing and analysis technologies.
"These projects span an impressive spectrum of novel technologies – from sequencing by synthesis to nanopore technology. Many of these new approaches have shown significant promise, yet far more exploration and development are needed if these sequencing technologies are to be useful to the average researcher or physician," said Jeffery Schloss, Ph.D., NHGRI's program director for technology development. "We look forward to seeing which of these technologies fulfill their promise and achieve the quantum leaps that are needed to take DNA sequencing to the next level."
Note that to get from $10 million to $100,000 per genome in 5 years would be a 2 order of magnitude drop that would be almost as much of a drop in scale as happened in the previous 10 years. But maybe the various research teams can pull it off.
To get to the $1000 genome requires a further 2 orders of magnitude drop in costs. Note that the press release provide any indication of when that goal might be reached. You click through and read the full press release and you will notice that the bulk of the funding ($31.5 million by my calculations) is for achieving the short-term $100,000 genome goal. Much smaller amounts of money are allocated toward the development of technologies that will enable much more radical advances. This seems like a mistake to me.
In my opinion too much money has been spent on using sequencing technologies and not enough on developing new sequencing technologies. Even this $38 million is not much for development of new sequencing technologies since on a per year basis it amounts to well less than $20 million per year (it is hard to calculate an exact amount since some of the grants are 2 years and some are 3 years). When the federal government is spending many hundreds of millions per year (I'm too lazy to look up NHGRI's total yearly budget but this is a very small fraction of it) using sequencing technologies that are orders of magnitude more expensive than what we could have in a few years then it seems obvious to me that the money spent over the last few years on sequencing should mostly have gone to develop cheaper technologies. The focus on short-term results by using current technologies is very unoptimal.
Update: To put the spending for faster DNA sequencing techniques in perspective the National Human Genome Research Institute has a total budget of almost a half billion dollars.
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to present the President's budget request for the National Human Genome Research Institute for fiscal year 2005, a sum of $492,670,000, which reflects an increase of $13,842,000 over the FY 2004 Final Conference appropriation.
President Bush yesterday (February 2) sent to Congress a $28.6 billion budget request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in fiscal year 2005, a 2.6% increase of $729 million over the current year's funding. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive a 2.5% increase of around $140 million to $5.7 billion, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would be cut by 8.9% to $4.3 billion, a reduction of $408 million.
Aside: As the baby boomers begin to retire and an enormous fiscal crisis erupts I expect total NIH spending will go down, not up. More money will go toward treating the already sick with existing technologies rather than doing the scientific research and technological research that could so revolutionize medicine that people will rarely get sick.
One reason that biomedical scientists ought to get on the aging-reversal rejuvenation SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) bandwagon is that when the fiscal crisis erupts medical and biological researchers need to have a rosier future achievable by research to sell to the public. Nothing less than an incredibly rosy scenario of rejuvenation and the end of most diseases will be enough of an enticement to keep the research bucks flowing and growing when the strains on the US federal budget become enormous.
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