A Diagnostics & Imaging Week

The National Institutes of Health last week reported that it has awarded a five-year, $3.8 million contract under the auspices of the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research to build the Neuroimaging Informatics Tools and Resources Clearinghouse.

The NIH says that many neuroimaging tools and databases are underutilized because they are neither user-friendly nor easily adoptable and very often not well documented. Under this contract, the Turner Consulting Group (TCG; Washington) will establish a web-based clearinghouse for neuroimaging tools, vocabularies and databases to facilitate the dissemination of these resources and the discussion of needs and limitations.

It will initially focus on functional MRI, which can determine the different brain regions that become active during specific motor or cognitive tasks.

"The goal of the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research is to provide scientists with new tools, resources, and training opportunities through collaborations and pooled resources," said Elias Zerhouni, MD, director of the NIH. "By building upon significant investments already made in the informatics area, the Neuroimaging Informatics Tools and Resources Clearinghouse will provide a coordinated, coherent resource for the neuroimaging research community."

"This clearinghouse will be an important and valuable tool for the neuroimaging research community," said Roderic Pettigrew, MD, PhD, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB). "It will ensure that neuroimaging informatics tools and resources are well characterized, documented, and adoptable by the extended research community."

NIBIB will manage the contract on behalf of the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience consortium.

The NIH says that the Neuroscience Blueprint gives a framework for enhancing cooperation among 15 NIH institutes and centers, supporting and making available resources for neuroscience research.

$13.8 million for expanded genomics

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the NIH reported that it has made grant awards of more than $13.3 million to a dozen researchers for the development of new sequencing technologies intended to reduce the cost of DNA sequencing and to expand the use of genomics in medical research and healthcare.

Despite large recent declines in the costs of conducting this type of research, it still requires around $10 million to sequence 3 billion base pairs — the amount of DNA found in the genomes of humans and other mammals — according to the Institute.

The NHGRI's goal is to lower the cost of sequencing a mammalian-sized genome to $100,000, allowing researchers to sequence the genomes of hundreds or even thousands of people in studies to identify genes that contribute to common but complex diseases.

Ultimately, NHGRI is focused on cutting the cost of whole-genome sequencing to $1,000 or less, enabling the sequencing of an individual's genome during routine medical care.

"[W]e are committed to supporting these innovative efforts to benefit scientific labs and medical clinics," said Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the NHGRI. "These technologies will eventually revolutionize the way that biomedical research and the practice of medicine are done."

NIEHS establishes research clinic

The first outpatient clinical research facility is being established at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the NIH, to bridge the gap between research and patient care and to train future generations of physician-scientists.

Initially, clinical studies in the new facility will focus on pulmonary exposures and diseases such as asthma.

The NIEHS said it expects to begin accepting patients by summer 2007.

"Having a place on the NIEHS campus for physician-scientists to see patients will allow us to focus our research on scientific questions that are clinically relevant," said David Schwartz, MD, director of NIEHS.

"Not only is it a great opportunity for our in-house scientists, but it also allows us to give something back to the community."

The facility will be located near the main NIEHS building in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and will operate as an outpatient facility and provide evaluations, biological sample collection and processing, pulmonary function testing and bronchial sampling capabilities.

Construction of the facility is estimated to cost $4.75 million.

The clinical research facility is part of the Institute's new effort to have a stronger impact on human health and disease as articulated in its 2006 Strategic Plan, "New Frontiers in Environmental Sciences and Human Health." It demonstrates the NIEHS commitment to translational research by moving research results from the NIEHS portfolio into clinical practice.

"The clinical unit will provide new opportunities for researchers from different disciplines to work together to translate basic laboratory findings to patients," said Perry Blackshear, MD, director of clinical research at NIEHS.

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