November 2011

NIH news

Knockout Mouse Project enters
second phase of phenotyping

The National Institutes of Health recently announced that it awarded a set of cooperative agreements totaling more than $110 million to begin the second phase of the Knockout Mouse Project. The five-year endeavor will be an international collaboration that will involve NIH-funded researchers as well as those from the International Knockout Mouse Phenotyping Consortium. The second phase will be called the  Knockout Mouse Phenotyping Project, or KOMP2, and will make its data freely accessible in a public database. The researchers will generate about 5,000 strains of knockout mice that will undergo a large series of clinical phenotype tests so that functional traits can be linked with every protein-coding mammalian gene. This information is anticipated to be invaluable for the discovery of the genetic causes of human diseases and help to identify new drug targets. NIH Director Francis S. Collins said in a statement, “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.” 

Skipping postdoctoral training
under new NIH program

The National Institutes of Health has launched a program to allow exceptional junior investigators to go straight into independent researcher positions after completing their graduate research degree or clinical residency. The NIH Common Fund has developed the Early Independence Awards program in response to the increasing length of the traditional scientific training period and corresponding increase in the age at which scientists establish independent research careers. The first 10 awards already have been made, and NIH plans to commit about $19.3 million to support the individuals’ research projects over the next five years.

NIH, DARPA and FDA collaborate
to develop novel chip for drug safety

President Obama recently announced that the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will collaborate to develop a chip that will screen for safe and effective drugs more quickly and efficiently than current methods. The chip will contain specific cell types, cultured in ways to better reflect in vivo conditions, and will produce different types of data.

NIH and DARPA will run separate and independent development programs but will partner to maximize efforts. The two agencies began soliciting proposals this fall on how best to develop the chip by applying the latest advances in engineering, biology and toxicology. Each agency intends to commit up to $70 million over the next five years to its program. The FDA will determine how the technology can be exploited prior to approval for use in human studies.

“We know the [drug] development pipeline has bottlenecks in it, and everyone would benefit from fixing them,” NIH Director Francis S. Collins said in a statement. “What we need are entirely novel approaches to translational science to take full advantage of the deluge of new biomedical discoveries that have been made in recent years.”

Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay, Ph.D., ( is the senior science writer for ASBMB Today and technical editor for JBC.

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