By Kim Coghill
MCLEAN, Va. - A scientist leading the charge to research the proteome expects commercial, academic and government support to be more readily available for this project than it was for the Human Genome Project.
Already, in other parts of the world, entities that don't want to be left behind are digging into their pockets to provide funding for the research considered the natural step following completion of the Human Genome Project.
In the past several weeks alone, the 24 council members of the newly formed Human Proteome Organization (HUPO) have managed to get access to a collective $1 billion for the research.
Proteomics is the study of the function, regulation and expression of proteins in relation to the normal function of the cell and in the initiation or progression of a disease state. Proteomics is of particular importance since it is at the level of protein activity that most diseases are manifested. Consequently, proteomics seeks to correlate directly the involvement of specific proteins and/or protein complexes in a given disease state.
HUPO held its first annual meeting this week at the Human Proteome Project conference in McLean, Va.
It was during the meeting that Ian Humphery-Smith, a founder of HUPO, spoke to an international group of scientists about the organization and the future of proteomic research.
Humphery-Smith, a professor at University of Utrecht and the chief operating officer at Glaucus Proteomics B.V., both located in the Netherlands, told BioWorld Today that although HUPO is just getting off the ground, "There are significant resources available now and rather than having to beg and wait three years to start research, which is what happened to HUGO [the Human Genome Project], the proteome work already has started."
Similar to HUGO, HUPO likely will be based in Europe - London, if Humphery-Smith has his way - and will work to globally promote proteomics.
Milestones set for research start with a five- to 10-year timeline to list each of the proteins. Humphery-Smith said there are an estimated 60,000 proteins encoded by 10,000 genes. "We have an estimated 35,000 genes, which I'm sure 20 percent of the small genes have not been annotated, so you are looking at about 40,000 multiplied by 10," he said. "We were elated by the fact that there were fewer genes than expected - it makes our job a lot easier. There's a lot of complexity, but it makes it more achievable."
Other four- to seven-year milestones are developing recombinant proteins from all genes and eventually having the capability to follow the output of each gene.
And who will do the work and pay for the work? Humphery-Smith said, "No one wants to miss out on this project. This will be a far more democratic global initiative [than the genome project]. We are seeing many governments in Europe and Southeast Asia pushing and giving serious consideration to proteomics/functional genomics initiatives."
While neither the National Institutes of Health nor the Department of Energy has a proteomics policy, "they are doing some things important to note in functioning structural genomics." Meanwhile, he said, "we are seeing things starting in U.S. industries."
Korea is the only government so far to make an overture to assist, but long term, Humphery-Smith sees the project as being commercially driven and facilitated by governments.
"I believe that HUPO has a moral obligation to help promote the field generally and make funds available from governments and industry elsewhere in the world to promote the field," he said. "The only thing HUPO has agreed to do is promote proteomics globally."
Similarly, HUGO was established to promote the scientific study of the human genome and encourage the flow of information unconstrained by individual, industrial or national interests.
Among the HUPO council members are representatives from Celera Genomics, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., Harvard Medical School, the University of Michigan, Oxford GlycoSciences, Proteome Sciences plc, universities in Europe and Japan, Scripps Research Institute and other research institutions.
At this time, scientists and researchers are being asked to visit HUPO's web site at www.HUPO.org to register. n