Largest grant ever to Indiana U fuels Genomics Initiative

December 13, 2000

$105 million grant from Lilly Endowment to IU fuels Indiana Genomics Initiative

INDIANAPOLIS -- A $105 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. has positioned Indiana University to take a commanding role in the promising field of genomics research. This is the largest single grant ever received by the university and the largest single gift ever awarded by the Lilly Endowment.

The Indiana Genomics Initiative will create a world-class biomedical enterprise, building on existing resources at the IU School of Medicine. The school currently holds $130 million in research funding, which includes funding for the only federally sponsored gene vector production and research facility, for one of three molecular hematology research centers in the country, and for a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Research Center.

The initiative, referred to as INGEN, will advance educational opportunities for doctoral and master's degree scientists and computer specialists at both the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis campus and the Bloomington campus.

N. Clay Robbins, president of the Endowment, said, "Lilly Endowment was immediately attracted to this initiative because it builds strategically on Indiana University's recognized strengths in informatics and supercomputing, supported in part by the Endowment-funded Indiana Pervasive Computing Research Initiative. The potential for the results of this grant to attract a stellar array of intellectual talent and expertise to Indiana -- along with attendant employment opportunities -- is especially exciting.

"The Endowment," Robbins noted, "also is greatly impressed by the commitment of IU as a part of this initiative to develop a major center for the study of bioethics, especially relating to genomics research."

IU President Myles Brand responded, "IU is very happy to partner with the Lilly Endowment to create the Indiana Genomics Initiative. Through its approval of this funding, the Endowment clearly states its belief that IU is up to this challenge. Of course, I heartily agree. INGEN will capitalize on the excellence of the School of Medicine, and it will build on preeminent research programs under way in biology and chemistry on the Bloomington campus. It also will rely on IU's leadership in information technology and the emerging field of informatics.

"The project will illustrate on a grand scale the truth that IU's excellence is a public resource," said Brand. "That means we not only have an obligation to educate the state's citizens but to improve their quality of life and help create a 21st-century Hoosier economy. INGEN will enable us to do that in new and exciting ways."

In addition to education and bioethics, the other key components of the initiative are genomics, bioinformatics, medical informatics and training for working scientists.

Since the Human Genome Project, initiated by the United States government in 1989, recently announced it had completed a "working draft" of the human genome, scientists at institutions throughout the world have stepped up their research to make sense of the estimated 3 billion bits of information that make up the human genome, the genetic material that contains DNA -- the building blocks of life.

"Determining the meanings contained in these 3 billion bits of information is like setting out to understand a foreign language given only a jumbled list of words without their meanings," said Dr. D. Craig Brater, dean of the IU School of Medicine and a chief architect of the proposal made to Lilly Endowment.

"Physicians and researchers involved in the Indiana Genomics Initiative will collaborate to discover the meanings of those words," Brater said. "They are the keys for better patient care. We strongly believe that this will bring us to the day we will be able to treat a cancer patient with a therapy that destroys only cancer cells, leaving healthy tissue unharmed, or give a remedy to halt a patient's Alzheimer disease at the same time we give a diagnosis.

"All of our expectations of future health care depend on a whole new way of treating disease and on physicians and scientists who will develop those treatments. This means working from a genomics-based knowledge base. Since more than half of the physicians treating citizens in Indiana are educated at the IU School of Medicine, it is vital for us to provide them with the best education and training in the country," Brater added.

Within three years, IU will hire approximately 75 additional M.D., Ph.D., M.D./Ph.D. and master's degree-level scientists and will be positioned to attract exceptional scholars interested in genomics. The initiative will have a similar impact on student recruitment in information technology and other fields associated with the initiative at IU.

"The Endowment believes that this comprehensive plan -- with talented and committed people carrying it out -- has the potential to position Indiana University and its Schools of Medicine and Informatics into the highest rank of research enterprises," said Sara B. Cobb, the Endowment's vice president for education.

"Because of IU's nationally recognized expertise in supercomputing and informatics, this grant holds promise to develop a critical mass of intellectual capital in our state's life sciences industry cluster, one of the highest priorities identified in an ongoing study of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership conducted by the Battelle Memorial Institute," she said. "We are also impressed with the university's opportunities for synergies between IU's information technology expertise and the Regenstrief Medical Record System."

The Indiana Genomics Initiative will build on IU's investments in research and academic computing resources -- including an expansion of its supercomputer system -- and the university's links to Internet2 and other high speed computing networks.

"Information technology is essential to scientific progress in genomics research," said Michael A. McRobbie, IU vice president for information technology and chief information officer, who will be responsible for the further development of the information technology infrastructure for the initiative.

"The genomics initiative will take advantage of IU's world-class information technology infrastructure including supercomputers, facilities for storing massive amounts of computer data, and 3-D visualization laboratories," McRobbie said. "It will also have very close connections to IU's new School of Informatics for education and training in this area, and to other IU centers of research in the use of information technology to solve complex problems."

IU anticipates collaborations with other universities and private industry. The IU Advanced Research and Technology Institute, known as ARTI, will support economic development and promote commercialization of scientific discoveries through a technology transfer assistance program. It will include access to seed and venture capital, workforce enhancement, creation of biomedical companies, and licensing to commercial partners.
-end-
NOTE: More information about the Indiana Genomics Initiative is available at its Web site at http://www.ingen.iu.edu.

Indiana University

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