NIH introduces research program on genome editing in humans

The National Institutes of Health will launch a research program to encourage the development of genome-editing treatments for various diseases.

Under the Somatic Cell Genome Editing program, the NIH plans to award researchers roughly $190 million over six years. The researchers will collaborate to create genome-editing tools, assays to test the safety of these developments in human cells and a resource toolkit detailing these methods.

The program focuses on editing genomes in somatic cells, or non-reproductive cells that don't pass DNA onto the next generation. "By focusing on somatic cells, any changes to the DNA introduced by the genome editing therapeutics will not be inherited," the NIH specified in a recent announcement.

The agency plans to release funding opportunity information for the program within a month of the Jan. 23 announcement.

"Genome editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 are revolutionizing biomedical research," said Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, director of the NIH. CRISPR-Cas9 is known as one of the most precise versions of the genome-editing tool CRISPR, an experimental technology that enables scientists to edit an organism's DNA.

"The focus of the Somatic Cell Genome Editing program is to dramatically accelerate the translation of these technologies to the clinic for treatment of as many genetic diseases as possible," Dr. Collins continued.

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