UAlbany Cancer Researcher's $2.2 Million Grant Funds Ground Breaking Human Genome Study

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 11, 2007) -- Scott Tenenbaum, an assistant professor in biomedical sciences at UAlbany's School of Public Health and the Gen*NY*Sis Center for Excellence in Cancer Genomics, was awarded a three-year, $2.2 million grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) to study the organization and function of human genes, which can provide insight into treating, preventing and diagnosing diseases. Tenenbaum is among a consortium of researchers participating in the NHGRI's ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project designed to conduct more in-depth research on the human genome. "The project's focus is to understand the human genome -- all of its parts and how they function together -- so we can use this information to improve people's health," said Tenenbaum, who helped pioneer work in ribonomics, which uses RNA-binding proteins to identify sets of genes involved in specific diseases. "It can have a direct impact on the future of understanding cancer and other diseases and has the potential to positively affect many people's lives." "Scott's ENCODE project is an important step forward for UAlbany's Center for Excellence in Cancer Genomics and shows that he is conducting prominent scientific work on RNA mediated gene expression," said Lynn Videka, vice president for research at UAlbany. In recent years, researchers have made major strides in using DNA sequence data to help find genes. The protein-coding component of these genes, however, makes up just a small fraction of the human genome -- about 1.5 percent. There is strong evidence that other parts of the genome have important functions, but very little information exists about where these other functional elements are located and how they work. "ENCODE's effort to survey the entire genome will uncover even more exciting surprises, providing us with a more complete picture of the biological roots of human health and disease," said NHGRI Director Francis S. Collins. In June, the ENCODE research consortium published a set of landmark papers in the journals Nature and Genome Research that found the organization, function and evolution of the genome to be far more complicated than most had suspected. For example, while researchers have traditionally focused on studying genes and their associated proteins, the ENCODE data indicate the genome is a very complex, interwoven network in which genes are just one of many types of DNA sequences with functional impact. "We learned many valuable lessons from the ENCODE pilot project. Among them was the importance of scientific teamwork," said Elise A. Feingold, program director for ENCODE in NHGRI's Division of Extramural Research. "Following the pilot's strong example of multi-disciplinary collaboration, we are confident that the scaled-up ENCODE team will succeed in its quest to build a comprehensive catalog of the components of the human genome that are crucial to biological function." To compile data for the full-scale project, Tenenbaum will team with other leading researchers from across the country, including the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Duke University Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, and Stanford and Yale universities. "As was the case for the Human Genome Project and the ENCODE pilot, all of the data generated by the full-scale ENCODE project will be deposited into public databases as soon as they are experimentally verified," said Peter Good, program director for genome informatics in NHGRI's Division of Extramural Research. "Free and rapid access to this data will enable researchers around the world to pose new questions and gain new insights into how the human genome functions." The Gen*NY*Sis Center for Excellence in Cancer Genomics was founded with the support of Senator Joseph Bruno, majority leader of the New York State Senate, the state's Gen*NY*Sis program, and the University at Albany to provide the Capital District with cutting-edge expertise in cancer biology. The Center for Functional Genomics, under whose auspices the Gen*NY*Sis Center currently operates, supports emerging biotechnology and biomedical companies with a business incubator that includes lab space, technological infrastructure, and a staff of highly experienced research scientists. NHGRI is one of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. NHGRI's Division of Extramural Research supports grants for research and for training and career development at sites nationwide.