The University of Washington will receive $2.3 million annually from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the next four years to explore ways of treating a large group of inherited diseases. Many of those diseases are extremely rare, but as a group they affect millions of Americans.
The federal money will be used to establish two programs in the UW’s Department of Genome Sciences to look at ways of applying advances in human gene research to the care of patients suffering from hereditary illnesses such as cystic fibrosis, cycle cell anemia and muscular dystrophy. Such illnesses tend to be caused by a mutation in a single human gene.
The NIH announcement illustrates the important role research universities play in developing new medical treatments and other advances to improve the human condition. Such work also can lead to growth in the state economy by spinning off new businesses based on work carried out at the universities.
The announcement also is an example of the important role research funding plays in the universities’ bottom line. Approximately 37 percent of overall funding for the UW and Washington State University came from research grants and contracts during the 2009-11 biennium.
According to an article in UW Today, pilot studies leading the UW’s successful proposal on inherited diseases were funded by the state’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund. That fund was established by the Governor and Legislature in 2005 to foster growth in the state’s life sciences economic sector and to improve the health and well being of Washingtonians.
Money in the fund comes from the state’s master settlement agreement with tobacco companies. However, much of that money has now been redirected to other needs because of the state’s budget crisis, according to a recent article in Crosscut.com.