NIH Common Fund Announces New Programs

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New programs exploring novel approaches to cell-to-cell communication and understanding undiagnosed diseases, which represent challenges or scientific opportunities for a wide array of health research, are the latest priorities for the National Institutes of Health Common Fund. The funding was announced today by NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., after he received broad community input and recommendations from institute and center directors at NIH. The Common Fund targets strategic investments that have the potential for rapid and significant impact. The programs are scheduled to begin during fiscal year 2013.

NIH Common Fund

The Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP) will provide a new network of medical research centers focused on the discovery, diagnosis, and ultimately care of undiagnosed patients by capitalizing on recent advances in genomics and the infusion of basic researchers in clinical projects.

An estimated 6 percent of the U.S. population suffers from an undiagnosed rare disorder. Building on the success of NIH intramural research into rare diseases, the Common Fund’s UDP will test whether this type of cross-disciplinary approach to disease diagnosis is feasible to implement in academic medical centers around the country. It will promote the use of genomic data in disease diagnosis and will engage basic researchers to identify the underlying mechanisms so that therapies may be rapidly identified. The program will also train clinicians in the use of contemporary genomic approaches so that these methods can be used to fight other diseases. NIH expects to provide approximately $145 million in Common Fund support over the next seven years for the UDP program.

NIH Director Francis Collins said:

This program will spawn new medical discoveries and accelerate clinical investigations that will ultimately improve the lives of thousands of patients living with undiagnosed diseases. Establishing a national network of clinical research centers is a critical first step towards addressing the need for more rapid and coordinated approaches to diagnose and manage rare undiagnosed diseases.

The Common Fund’s Extracellular RNA Communication program will explore new ways in which cells communicate with each other using extracellular ribonucleic acids (RNAs) — RNAs that are present in the space outside of and between cells. The program will provide foundational information about the synthesis, distribution, uptake, and function of extracellular RNAs that are involved in cell-to-cell communication that is critical for basic cell function and health.

It was once thought that RNA could only exist in a stable form in cells, where it functions as coding RNA, an important intermediary between genes and proteins. While coding RNA provides the blueprint to translate genes into proteins, a different class of non-coding RNA regulates this process. Recently, it has been shown that both coding and non-coding RNAs are secreted from cells and influence other cells some distance away. In addition, RNA from food that we eat, or from organisms in our environment, may also be taken up into cells. This program will explore how RNAs are released from cells, how they are packaged for transport through the body, whether and how they may be taken up from food or the environment, and how they affect a range of cell types. It will also provide information about the number of RNA molecules that are present in human fluids such as blood and will explore the use of extracellular RNAs in the clinic as diagnostic tools or as therapeutic agents. NIH expects to provide approximately $130 million in Common Fund support over the next five years for the program.

James M. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives that guides the NIH Common Fund’s programs said:

Because cell-to-cell communication is critical to so many different diseases, the program will open up new avenues for therapeutic delivery of RNAs that could transform basic science and clinical practice. Through development of new technologies, research tools, and data, the program will lay the groundwork for new investigations into the role of RNAs in health and disease.

The NIH Common Fund supports goal-driven, research networks in which investigators generate data to solve technological problems, and/or otherwise pilot resources and tools that will be stimulatory to the broader research community. The research products of Common Fund programs are expected to catalyze disease-specific research supported by the NIH Institutes and Centers. Additional information about the NIH Common Fund can be found at

Source: NIH News

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