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Seattle Children's Hospital Leads $23.7 Million NIH Grant to Study Gene Repair

September 06, 2007

 Seattle Children’s Hospital will receive the largest research grant in its 100-year history for a new five-year, 11-part grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study gene repair.

Seattle Children’s Hospital will receive the largest research grant in its 100-year history for a new five-year, 11-part grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study gene repair. The $23.7 million grant will support the Northwest Genome Engineering Consortium, led by Andrew M. Scharenberg, MD, of Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute in partnership with the University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSOM) and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Approximately $13.2 million will be directly awarded to Children’s, with $5.3 million going to UWSOM and $5.2 million to the Hutchinson Center.

The project is funded by the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, a new type of NIH grant program designed to address especially complex problems in research that require expertise across multiple scientific disciplines. This large award comes fresh on the heels of Children’s Hospital being ranked ninth in the nation among the country’s top pediatric hospitals, at a time when Children’s is significantly expanding its research agenda, facilities and staff. During the past year Children’s has acquired nearly four acres and 1.5 million developable-square feet of research property in downtown Seattle’s prime biotech corridor.

The Northwest Genome Engineering Consortium (NGEC) is collaborative research composed of 11 different projects that will build upon each other to develop methods for gene repair, an innovative approach to gene therapy. Gene repair involves manipulating defective sequences of DNA in a targeted gene to change them to the correct sequence, restoring the gene to normal function and eliminating the cause of the patient’s inherited disease. Gene repair requires multiple scientific disciplines to generate new kinds of proteins that can perform the required manipulations and then deliver them to a patient’s diseased tissues.

“With this research we hope to develop new and efficient approaches for gene repair in certain types of stem cells and other tissues, and use these methods to improve treatments for genetic diseases affecting these tissues,” said Scharenberg.

While gene repair ultimately may be useful against a wide range of diseases, Scharenberg believes single-gene inherited disorders of the lymph and bone-marrow systems such as immune deficiencies, Sickle Cell Disease and thalassemias are the best place to start. Collectively, these disorders are a major global disease burden in children. The target cells in these diseases that will be manipulated by the gene-repair process are blood stem cells, and they are readily accessible. By working with these disorders, the NGEC will build upon Seattle’s strong regional expertise and reputation in this type of stem-cell transplantation.

“We hope it will be possible to remove a patient’s existing blood stem cells, repair defective genes in these cells, and then return them back to the same patient once corrected,” said NGEC co-director David J. Rawlings, MD, of Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute. “This repair approach potentially bypasses the complications, treatments and costs associated with rejection experienced by patients receiving replacement stem cells from a different individual.”

“This complex project provides major new hope for many inherited diseases we’ve previously had few answers for,” said Bruder Stapleton, MD, chief academic officer at Children’s and chair, Department of Pediatrics at the UWSOM. “We have five years of very exciting, collaborative science ahead. We’re also pleased to join ranks with other NIH Roadmap grant recipients including major research institutions like Harvard, MIT, Yale, Northwestern and UCLA to address some of the most complex problems in modern medicine.”

The NGEC research project features 11 different inter-related components, bringing together staff and resources from Children’s, UWSOM and the Hutchinson Center. Joining Scharenberg and Rawlings will be David Baker, PhD, Nancy Maizels, PhD, and Raymond J. Monnat, MD, from the UWSOM, and Hans-Peter Kiem, MD, and Barry Stoddard, PhD, from the Hutchinson Center.

“The Northwest Genome Engineering Consortium builds upon the tradition of Seattle’s previous bone marrow transplant work and related biotech research in our region, firmly placing Children’s Hospital, UWSOM and the Hutchinson Center at the epicenter of groundbreaking genetic developments that will impact the medicine of tomorrow,” said Stapleton.

The NIH Roadmap for Medical Research has awarded these significant grants to only nine interdisciplinary research groups in the United States. Each project integrates aspects of different disciplines to address complex health challenges that have so far resisted traditional research approaches. The funding of these nine consortia represents a fundamental change in how biomedical research is conducted.

“These programs are designed to encourage and enable change in academic research culture to make interdisciplinary research easier for scientists who wish to collaborate in unconventional ways,” said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, MD.

Together the nine national NIH Roadmap consortia will be funded at a total level of $210 million over five years. Each consortium has an overall principal investigator that is responsible for coordinating the efforts of the grant’s multiple components. For complete descriptions of all nine national NIH Roadmap for Medical Research projects please visit: http://www.ncrr.nih.gov.

For more information about the Northwest Genome Engineering Consortium, please visit: Research.

As the sole medical school for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho, the UWSOM ranks first among public medical schools and second among all medical schools in federal research funding.

About Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Located in downtown Seattle’s biotech corridor, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention and bioethics, among others. As part of Seattle Children’s Hospital, the research institute brings together leading minds in pediatric research to provide patients with the best care possible. Seattle Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, which consistently ranks as one of the best pediatric departments in the country. For more information, visit http://www.seattlechildrens.org/research.

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