Genome Center Opens in New York

By Sarah Matheson, Epoch Times
September 20, 2013 Updated: September 20, 2013

NEW YORK—The multi-million dollar New York Genome Center (NYGC) officially opened Sept. 19 at a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the philanthropists who contributed to the project.

Some of the nation’s most prestigious medical schools and laboratories have come on board as founding member institutions, in an effort to push advancements in genome research through collaboration and data sharing.

Researchers hope the center will hasten the development of new diagnostics and treatments for diseases, such as cancer.

Robert Darnell, a NYGC president and scientific director, said the center’s first project had been approved, and the second, a New York-driven cancer trial, would likely start in October.

The center will aid genome researchers in “making biological and medical sense out of data sets,” and lead to advancements in genomics’ research internationally, said Tom Maniatis, professor and chairman of Columbia University’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics.

Maniatis also serves as the chair of NYGC’s scientific and clinical steering committee, which meets monthly with researchers.

The process involved in analyzing a genome costs around $3,000, according to Nicolas Robine, a bioinformatics scientist at the center.

Researchers from member institutions will use the center’s sequencer machines to analyze genomes from fragmented DNA or RNA, depending on their project. The machines can process a genome sequence in 24 hours.

NYGC also supplies researchers with bioinformatics support to interpret the large amount of data produced by the machines, as well as data storage. Analysis of one genome creates about half a terabyte of information.

Each of the center’s Illumina HiSeq 250 machines costs about $750,000. The center has 20, but has space reserved for up to 100. The machines and other equipment will be updated at least every three years, to keep up with technology advancements, Robine said.

The center managed to raise $140 million in capital, most of it through philanthropists.

William Fair, Vice President of Strategic Operations for New York Genome Center, said a state grant provided $1.5 million, the city provided $5 million, and each founding member institution contributed $2.5 million. Federal grants will likely provide a large part of the center’s funding in the future, because it provides data storage for genome research.

The other medical institutions, which joined later, also contributed, but not on the scale of the founding member institutions, Fair said.

Bloomberg Philanthropies contributed $2.5 million, and David Rockefeller $1 million.

Jim Simons, a hedge fund manager, mathematician, and philanthropist; and Russ Carson, co-founder and a general partner at private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, “made substantial contributions of tens of millions of dollars,” Fair said.

The twelve founding institutional members of NYGC are Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Columbia University, Cornell University/Weill Cornell Medical College, The Jackson Laboratory, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York University/NYU School of Medicine, North Shore-LIJ Health System, The Rockefeller University, and Stony Brook University.

The American Museum of Natural History; NYGC Associate Members including the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY; and The New York Stem Cell Foundation are also members.

The center takes up most of the seven-floor building at 101 Sixth Avenue, near Canal Street, in Lower Manhattan, and cost $54 million to design, renovate, and equip.