NIH to spur innovation in new therapeutic areas

The National Institutes of Health is launching three new programs in emerging areas with the lofty goal of transforming biomedical research in the next 5 to 10 years.

The initiatives, supported by the NIH's Common Fund, include work on the effect of sugar modifications on proteins, the arrangement of DNA within cells in four dimensions, and the development of new therapies that allow control of organ function through manipulation of nerves.

"These programs tackle some of the most difficult and novel areas being confronted by the biomedical research community," said Dr. James Anderson, director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which oversees the NIH Common Fund. "Each new program has the ability to catalyze biomedical advances and expand research in critical areas of human health."

The Glycoscience program, which will examine how the addition of sugar modifications changes protein functions, will develop ways to make the field more accessible to the broader biomedical research community. An emerging field that explores the structures and functions of sugars, glycoscience could help scientists better understand how cells and organs function.

The second initiative, the 4D Nucleome program, will develop technologies to allow researchers to study how DNA is arranged within cells in space and time and how this arrangement affects cellular function in health and disease.

Lastly, the Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC) program will develop high-resolution neural circuit maps and next-generation implants called neural modulation devices that can stimulate nerves for possible therapeutic use. Because all organs are stimulated by nerves, tinkering with these nerve signals to control organ function could provide a way to treat certain conditions, such as hypertension, heart failure, gastrointestinal disorders, Type 2 diabetes and inflammatory disorders.

Created by Congress through the 2006 NIH Reform Act, the Common Fund has a current budget of $531 million--1.8% of NIH's total appropriation.

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