Researchers awarded $16 million

May 16, 2002, vol. 24, no. 2
By Carol Thorbes

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SFU researchers and alumni lead or co-lead three of the five projects collectively awarded $16 million in the second round of funding from Genome Canada in B.C.

David Baillie, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry and a Canada Research Chair in genomics at SFU, leads an international project that was awarded $5.3 million.

The federal funding hinges on the ability of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden to secure a matching $5.3 million from the Swedish government. The Karolinska Institute is a key collaborator on Baillie's project.

Marco Marra, Steven Jones and Don Moerman, former SFU students of Baillie, are helping him decipher the function of 2,000 genes that are common to the C. elegan's and human genomes. “Previous research has shown that genes that are preserved across species are frequently the ones that cause diseases in humans when they're mutated,” says Baillie. “It's important that we find out what these genes do in humans.”

Marra and Jones, adjunct professors at SFU's department of MBB, co-lead another project, worth $3.2 million. Marra co-directs the B.C. Cancer Research Centre's Genome Sciences Centre. Jones heads up bioinformatics (computational analysis of genes and proteins) at the centre, which has more than 60 scientists working for it.

In their joint study, the two are looking at when and where human genes are turned on and off in the body. Jones and Marra will identify and correlate the activity of genes common to the mouse and human genomes. “This research will help scientists develop safe, gene-based therapies for cancer and other diseases,” says Jones.

In another project co-led by Marra and granted $5.8 million, scientists are developing an atlas of genes activated at various stages of mouse development in different types of tissues. Research indicates that a failure in gene regulation can often cause diseases, especially cancer. “The project will provide important insight into the disease process in humans,” says Marra.

A not-for-profit organization, Genome Canada is the federal government's primary agency for funding genomics research nationally. Genome B.C., a regional arm of Genome Canada, distributes the federal agency's grants annually in B.C. and must raise matching funds.

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