A group of Houston scientists are testing ways to find a faster — cheaper method of sequencing the human genome. As Houston Public Radio’s Laurie Johnson reports — the project is supported by the national institues of health and — if successful — could launch Houston to the forefront of biotechnology.
When the first human genome was successfully sequenced in 2003 it was a milestone for the medical and scientific community, but even though scientists now know how to perform the sequencing, it would cost between $10 million and $25 million to do it again. The National Institutes of Health awarded a $4.2 million grant to VisiGen Biotechnologies for their research into cheaper sequencing methods. VisiGen is a local company created by a group of professors at the University of Houston. Company President Dr. Susan Hardin says it’s important to be able to easily sequence more dna strands.
Comparing dna strands could allow researchers to find genetic predispositions that lead to certain diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease…the scope is seemingly endless. Hardin says dna sequencing needs to be cheap enough for practical, individualized patient care.
VisiGen’s project was initially funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA. DARPA manages research projects for the Department of Defense and frequently funds high-risk, high pay-off projects. The NIH awarded their grant to the company and Hardin says VisiGen is now in a race to get reliable sequencing technology on the market.
The NIH grant will fund the project for the next three years. VisiGen is working in cooperation with Baylor College of Medicine to develop the genome sequencing technology.