Hunting for Dark Genes
UNM scientists have received two federal grants totaling $7.5 million to help better understand little-studied “dark” genes and proteins that may contribute to human disease.
Most of the current efforts in human health research are focused on a small fraction of the human genome and proteome, ignoring the “dark” genome that includes many disease-relevant proteins and the associated scientific and commercial opportunities.
The awards made under the Illuminating the Druggable Genome (IDG) initiative, led by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund, highlight the fact that research to date has focused on a relatively small number of proteins.
Thanks to the emerging understanding that large portions of the human genome are poorly understood, the IDG program is intended to expand the knowledge base and identify new targets for developing small molecule or biologic drugs.
Tudor I. Oprea, MD, PhD, a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and chief of UNM’s Translational Informatics Division, is the principal investigator for the larger of the two awards, a six-year, $6 million grant that establishes a Knowledge Management Center to coordinate work in collaboration with Harvard University, University of California, San Francisco, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Washington University in St. Louis.
A related six-year, $1.5 million award went to Oprea and Larry Sklar, PhD, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Pathology.
“The program’s goal is to encourage and focus scientific activities on functionally enigmatic (or dark) genes,” Oprea said. “The Knowledge Management Center is tasked with constructing an objective, unbiased knowledge base with respect to dark and understudied proteins, integrating basic science activities and its major role in illuminating dark gene functions and roles in human disease.
“By working together with the experimental centers at Harvard, UCSF and UNC, UNM is well poised to empower novel biology and research activities that will shed light on the dark regions of the genome, to assess their potential role in disease and to develop new therapies, particularly for unmet medical needs.”