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$8.6M grant expands genome research

BY: BILL SNYDER

4/09/2010 - Vanderbilt University Medical Center has received an $8.6 million federal stimulus grant to create a new collaborative shared resource that officials said will accelerate discoveries in genome science and personalized medicine.

The collaboration, called VANTAGE, for Vanderbilt Technologies for Advanced Genomics, will co-locate and expand four existing core facilities and BioVU, the Medical Center's DNA databank.

The DNA Resources Core and the DNA Sequencing Facility will relocate from Light Hall. The Functional Genomics Shared Resource Core (formerly the Microarray Shared Resource) will move from MRB III.

They will join forces with the Flow Cytometry Core in the basement of Medical Center North.

Once the 12,500 square feet of laboratory space is renovated and modernized, by early summer 2012, it also will provide the first physical home for both the Genome Technology Core and the soon-to-be-installed robotic store for BioVU, supported by a separate federal grant.

“VANTAGE will enable technical synergy, energize multi-disciplinary collaborations and accelerate discovery in clinical and basic science across the institution,” said Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and the grant's principal investigator.

“This grant allows us to foster larger and more innovative research into genomics,” added Jonathan Haines, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Genetics Research, which currently houses the DNA Resources Core and BioVU.

The two-year grant is the largest awarded to Vanderbilt University by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. To date, the NIH has provided $81.6 million to support 179 different stimulus grants led by more than 160 Vanderbilt scientists.

“This award reflects both the strong current status of Vanderbilt in genomic sciences, and the tremendous potential we have to lead this realm of research in the future,” said William Tansey, Ph.D., interim chair of Cell & Developmental Biology and director of the Functional Genomics Shared Resource.

Tansey credited Susan Meyn, assistant director for Research Core Facilities in the Office of Research, for coordinating and writing the grant proposal.

“Susan Meyn was the champion of this grant,” Wente added.

VANTAGE is designed to meet the burgeoning demand for the latest genomic technologies, said Alfred George Jr., M.D., who directs the Division of Genetic Medicine and the DNA Sequencing Facility.

For example, researchers will sort specific populations of cells in the Flow Cytometry Core, and study their gene expression patterns using analytical methods in the adjoining core facilities. Others will order the genes they want to study from BioVU, which George predicted will contain 130,000 samples by the time VANTAGE opens.

“It's a one-stop shop for genomics,” he said. “It's pretty unusual to have this kind of horsepower focused in one location.”

In addition to new collaborative space, VANTAGE will provide funding for continued technological development of the cores, ensuring that investigators will have access to state-of-the-art equipment.

The Genome Technology Core (GTC), a collaboration of the Functional Genomics Shared Resource, DNA Sequencing Facility and the Computational Genomics Core, exemplifies that emphasis on next-generation technologies.

Last year, as part of the development of the GTC, the Medical Center installed a $450,000 Illumina Genome Analyzer in the DNA Sequencing Facility.

The new machine increases by one thousand-fold the gene-sequencing capacity of conventional Sanger sequencers. Realizing how quickly the machine may be “oversubscribed” by eager investigators lining up to do experiments, George has applied for a federal grant to purchase a second one for the GTC.

“I think a major part of Vanderbilt's scientific success has come from our culture of collaboration that has extended into the creation and support of core resources,” said BioVU's director, Dan Roden, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Personalized Medicine.

“The VANTAGE project will allow us to dramatically enhance our ability to deliver on the promise of existing and new technologies to advance personalized medicine,” he said.

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