Pacific Biosciences, a private company developing a disruptive technology platform for real-time detection of biological events at single molecule resolution, today announced that it has received grants totaling more than $1.9 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 Research and Research Infrastructure “Grand Opportunities” grants program.
The grants received by Pacific Biosciences through the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the NIH include $1,190,022 divided over two years to support the development of a direct DNA methylation detection method. DNA methylation is a chemical modification to DNA that causes changes in gene expression and regulation. DNA methylation and associated epigenetic factors are increasingly being recognized for their importance in the biology of development and disease processes such as cancer.
Developing the DNA methylation detection capability is part of Pacific Biosciences’ expansion into multiple applications where direct and real-time detection of biological processes will enable breakthrough science.
“The complex networks of biological processes associated with genetic factors beyond the underlying DNA sequence is one of the most exciting and rapidly expanding areas of study for disease researchers today,” said Eric Schadt, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer for Pacific Biosciences. “The ability to directly determine genomic DNA methylation patterns, even in areas with highly repetitive sequence, will dramatically accelerate and reduce the cost of projects aiming to illuminate the role of epigenetic factors in human health.”
Pacific Biosciences’ novel single molecule real time (SMRT™) approach enables direct profiling of DNA methylation patterns without the DNA amplification and bisulfite conversion steps required by other sequencing methods. Because the SMRT DNA sequencing system provides kinetic information about every base as it is being read in real time by the DNA polymerase enzyme, it can recognize the presence of methylated DNA. There currently are no commercially available systems capable of directly detecting methylation patterns in DNA.
“Our SMRT sequencing approach will unify the formerly separate applications of DNA sequencing and methylation sequencing,” said Steve Turner, Ph.D., Chief Technology Officer for Pacific Biosciences. “The potential to visualize methylation status and other epigenomic markers as a by-product of ordinary DNA sequencing, with no change in sample preparation or run conditions, will save researchers time and cost while also providing added depth to the information they can obtain from sequencing projects.”
According to the NHGRI, the new awards will stimulate ground-breaking research in studies ranging from those aimed at understanding the function of the human genome to those intended to lead to improvements in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human illness.
“While many new technologies are developed and introduced every year in highly competitive industries such as sequencing tools, those that are transformative enough to fundamentally change our understanding of basic science are rare,” added Hugh Martin, Chief Executive Officer for Pacific Biosciences. “The fact that the scientific community and the NIH are already recognizing the importance of single molecule real time detection of biological events suggests implications far beyond the simple metrics upon which today’s sequencing business is measured, and is further validation of the transformative nature of our SMRT Biology approach.”
Pacific Biosciences also received an additional $714,406 in funding toward its existing NIH grant to support the continued development of its single molecule real time (SMRT) DNA sequencing technology. The funds will be used to support further performance enhancements and additional scientific publications describing the SMRT technology.