American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Stimulus Package)

NIAMS ARRA Chronicles

ARRA-Funded Genetic Analyzer Boosts NIAMS Sequencing Efficiency
Dateline: Bethesda, MD

November 12, 2009 (historical)

It's roughly the size of a small copy machine, but in the minds of scientists in the Intramural Research Program (IRP) at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) in Bethesda, Md., it stands a lot taller.

The Institute recently acquired a genome analyzer, an instrument that examines genes and investigates the genetic makeup (genome) of different organisms. Purchased with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), it saves NIAMS researchers time and costs by performing large-scale DNA processing that results in billions of bases of high-quality gene sequences. The technology is also easy to use and minimizes handling errors and concerns about contamination.

With it, scientists can measure epigenetic changes: changes to the DNA machinery (called chromatin) that regulates gene expression. As a practical example, John O'Shea, M.D., IRP scientific director and chief of its Molecular Immunology and Inflammation Branch, and his colleagues recently discovered a new explanation for the flexibility of responses of one type of immune system cell (T lymphocytes) by using the new technology to survey the cells' epigenomes—the collection of epigenetic elements within the cells. Their work has generated the largest blueprint of its kind for studying the biology of these cells, and provides new clues about the epigenetic regulation of key immune genes—clues that could one day be used to treat diseases, particularly autoimmune and infectious diseases.

To Dr. O'Shea, the new instrument is a way to help explore an evolving view of the molecular mechanisms that govern the body's normal functions, as well as those involved in disease. The analyzer, he says, ".will help us better understand the genetic code, allowing us to identify disease markers and perhaps develop potential gene therapies to combat them."

The completion of the human genome a few years ago was the starting point of research that will benefit from the instrument's capabilities, says Dr. O'Shea. "The bottom line is that the analyzer allows us to put the information gleaned from the genome to work."

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The activity above is being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). More information about the National Institutes of Health's ARRA grant funding opportunities can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/recovery/. To track the progress of HHS activities funded through the ARRA, visit www.hhs.gov/recovery. To track all federal funds provided through the ARRA, visit www.recovery.gov.