The Jackson Laboratory receives $33 million for research to understand gene function and disease

Date: September 29, 2011
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Bar Harbor, Maine -- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have awarded grants totaling more than $33 million to The Jackson Laboratory for three projects that will help to speed disease research.

The grant makes the Laboratory a key participant in an international project to create one of the largest libraries of mammalian genetic function data.

Over the next five years, the Jackson NIH-funded researchers will extensively test and generate data about mice with disrupted genes to gain clues about human diseases, in the second phase of the Knockout Mouse Project, called KOMP2. Researchers make knockout mice by disrupting the function of individual genes across the mouse genome.

"The Jackson Laboratory is extremely excited to be a major player in this truly international effort to determine the function of every gene in the mouse," says Jackson Professor and Chair of Research Bob Braun, Ph.D. "Given the extremely high overlap between the mouse and human genomes--99 percent of the genes are in common--the project will, by inference, elucidate the function of much of the human genome, most of which is currently unknown."

Braun describes KOMP2 as "a major step forward in unraveling the genetic complexity of human disease and in empowering geneticists to interpret the sequence variation that exists in individual human genomes."

KOMP2 is part of a worldwide scientific effort, coordinated by the International Knockout Mouse Phenotyping Consortium, to generate about 5,000 strains of knockout mice that will undergo a large battery of clinical phenotype tests. A phenotype includes biological information about appearance, behavior and other measurable physical and biochemical characteristics. Such information will help reveal how all traits are affected by deleting a given gene in an individual mouse.

In the long term, the project aims to help the research community establish the traits associated with the function of every protein-coding gene in the mammalian genome. Such information will be valuable for discovering the genetic causes of human diseases and will aid efforts to identify new drug targets.

“The generation of detailed phenotypic information for each knockout mouse strain will be a boon to disease researchers who want to determine the function of genes and to improve mouse models of human disease,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “I am grateful to all of the people and programs across NIH who are supporting this effort and to our international partners who have joined us in this scientific endeavor.”

The Jackson Laboratory will receive a total of $33,450,000 for three KOMP2-related projects:

Jackson Professor and Director of Genetic Resource Science Leah Rae Donahue, Ph.D., says, "The Jackson Laboratory is well prepared to participate in KOMP2 by producing and phenotyping valuable new knockout strains of mice. This project will provide innovative mouse resources to enable biomedical insights into gene function that could lead to better understanding and treatment of human diseases."

Donahue expects the project to add six to eight new jobs at the Laboratory "with a full range of technical skill requirements."

The Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the University of California, Davis, are also receiving NIH funding to produce and phenotype knockout mice, for a total of about 2,500 knockout mouse lines. UC Davis is partnering with the Toronto Center for Phenogenomics in Canada, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California, and Charles River Laboratories in Wilmington, Mass., while Baylor is collaborating with two institutions in England, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Harwell in Oxfordshire.

The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution and National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center based in Bar Harbor, Maine, with a facility in Sacramento, California. Its mission is to discover the genetic basis for preventing, treating and curing human disease, and to enable research and education for the global biomedical community. The Laboratory is the world's source for more than 6,000 strains of genetically defined mice, is home of the Mouse Genome Database and is an international hub for scientific courses, conferences, training and education.

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Joyce Peterson, 207-288-6058, The Jackson Laboratory

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