. . . as German genomics gets cash windfall

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A windfall of money raised by government sales of mobile-phone licences is set to provide a boost for post-genomics research in Germany.

DM350 million (US$150 million) will be spent over the next three years in building up a 'technology platform' comprising different high-throughput post-genomics technologies, and creating networks of university clinical researchers to use it.

The technology platform will be installed primarily in non-university research centres where genomics infrastructures have already been built up. These include the GSF national research centre in Munich, the Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, the Centre for Biotechnological Research in Braunschweig and the German Cancer Centre in Heidelberg.

Decisions about what post-genomics facilities will be provided, and whether some of them should be extended into universities, will be made in consultation with the scientific community over the coming weeks. Possible components include a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) facility, to analyse the small genetic variations between individuals which may correlate with disease, and a battery of new mouse-phenotyping laboratories, which will 'diagnose', or otherwise characterize, mutant mice.

The profiles of the clinical networks — in categories such as cardiovascular disease, neuropathology or cancer, for example — will also be decided upon within the next couple of months, through consultation with the clinical community, probably followed by a competition.

Research secretary Catenhusen targets technology access. Credit: EPA/DPA/TOM MAELSA

“Germany will be the first country to take a systematic approach to post-genomics,” pledges Wolf-Michael Catenhusen, secretary for research in the federal government. He says that the approach will give universities, which train the next generation of scientists, access to the newest genomics technologies for their clinical research. Spending could start as early as six months from now.

“This is a great way of bringing clinical researchers on board, with a much wider range of technologies at their disposal,” says Martin Hrabé de Angelis, who runs the mouse mutant facility at the GSF. “If someone comes up with an interesting candidate gene for a disease, we can funnel it into the platform and generate a huge amount of information.”

Some clinical researchers are unhappy, though, that more of the money is not going to the universities themselves. Clemens Sorg, dean of medicine at the University of Münster and spokesman for the interdisciplinary research groups in clinical medicine, feels that the planned university networks “are to be the servants of the big platform”.

But Detlev Ganten, director of the Max Delbrück Centre, denies this will be the case, and says that scientific credit will ultimately go to clinicians. “We will all work to the same end, and the interesting results will come from the clinical networks,” he says.

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