NHGRI support research to accelerate development of innovative sequencing technologies

GE Global Research, the technology development arm for the General Electric Company (NYSE: GE), today announced that scientists in their Biosciences Lab have been awarded a second round of funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to continue research that could reduce the cost and time of sequencing of an entire human genome to less than $1,000, in under a day.

With current technology, the cost of sequencing is now estimated to be approximately $50,000 and the time of sequencing can take several weeks. GE scientists have invented and demonstrated a unique approach to sequencing that has the potential to significantly advance DNA sequencing technology. The additional funds from the NHGRI will enable GE’s research team to build a prototype DNA sequencer and demonstrate GE’s sequencing technology. To see an interview with the lead scientist on GE’s genome research project, -click here-.

GE’s genome research project is part of GE’s Healthymagination initiative, which is focused on driving new technologies and products that reduce costs, improve quality and increase access to healthcare. A genome is the collection of a person’s DNA and is the blueprint that codes for the unique traits that define every individual. If you stretched the DNA of a single human from end to end, it would stretch from Earth to Pluto and back again seven times, or 56 billion miles. The availability of faster, inexpensive DNA sequencing will have a profound impact on biological research, dramatically increasing the amount of genetic data that researchers can study to find sequences in humans underlying such common diseases as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cancers.

"We’re very pleased that the NHGRI has recognized the promise of GE’s sequencing technology, and that they are giving us the opportunity to continue development of our approach to faster, low cost, sequencing,” Dr. John Nelson, a molecular biologist at GE Global Research and principal investigator on the genome project, said. “Because sequencing is still so expensive today, many unanswered questions about the relationship between genetics and health remain. By reducing the cost and time of sequencing, we can develop a much more complete picture of the genetic factors that influence our health and well-being."

Dr. Nelson added, “The more information we can uncover about the human genome, the better our understanding will be of how we can predict, prevent, diagnose and treat disease. Developing an inexpensive sequencing platform is a key step to achieving these goals.”

As opposed to studying a few genes at a time, or studying known single nucleotide differences in the genome, researchers would be able to take a more comprehensive and systematic approach to studying and comparing whole genomes that could yield far more insight into diagnosing, preventing and/or treating a given disease. Moreover, treatments could potentially be customized to each individual.

Dr. Nelson is leading a multi-disciplinary team of scientists at Global Research, which includes expertise in molecular biology, enzymology, chemistry, optical and chemical engineering, microfluidics, automated image analysis and bioinformatics. During the past two years, Dr. Nelson and his research team have developed a new approach to sequencing that uses a mixture of enzyme and dye-tagged nucleotides, the building block of DNA, in a novel way to simplify the fundamental, front-end chemistry of massively parallel sequencing-by-synthesis. GE’s method uses the natural catalytic cycle of DNA polymerase, the enzyme that replicates DNA, to capture just a single DNA base on a single immobilized DNA strand. A fluorescence scanner is used to scan and identify hundreds of thousands of individual DNA molecules at once. The cycle is then repeated over and over to generate the DNA sequence of each strand.

Dr. Nelson has been conducting DNA related research since the mid-1980s and was part of GE's research team that helped enable the original sequencing of the human genome in the late 1990s. Today, he is part of Global Research’s Biosciences technology organization, which GE established five years ago to support long-range research endeavors in health care. The organization now has a team of more than 70 scientists.

GE Global Research will receive more than $1.3 million in funding from the NHGRI for Phase II of the project. GE’s project is part of a comprehensive effort by the NHGRI to support research that accelerates the development of innovative sequencing technologies that reduce the cost of DNA sequencing and expands the use of genomics in medical research and health care. The NHGRI issues genome technology grant awards to researchers to bring the cost of sequencing a human genome to under $100,000 in the near term, as well as revolutionary approaches to achieve the $1,000 genome. Global Research’s grant award is a “$1,000” genome grant.

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