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$245 Million to Fund Genomics Work at UNC

A standing-room-only crowd of medical researchers and University officials gathered at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center to hear Moeser announce that UNC is assuming a prominent role in the genomics field.

"We must be a leader," Moeser said. "Only a handful of truly good centers for genome research will exist in this country, and this will be one."

Genomics, the study of the DNA sequence, might lead to valuable information about diseases such as cancer, including who might be predisposed and how the disease can be treated.

Donations for the initiative came from various sources, ranging from an anonymous donor to Uncle Sam.

The anonymous $25 million donation to the School of Medicine is being used to establish the Michael Hooker Center for Proteomics, which will be devoted to studying the proteins that genes produce.

"The donor came to us because of our strong reputation in this area, and it was his idea we honor, (the late Chancellor) Michael Hooker," Moeser said.

In addition to the donation, UNC received $2.25 million in federal appropriations that will be used to support infrastructure and program costs such as lab equipment.

Rep. David Price, D-N.C., one of the congressmen responsible for securing the federal funds, said that while the funding did not come easily, it was highly important. "This funding exemplifies the need for the federal government to continue a partnership with the research universities of this nation," he said.

The $3.1 billion higher education bond referendum passed by N.C. voters in November provided an additional $137 million for four new facilities affiliated with genomics research. Bond money will fund about one-third of the total cost of the Medical Biomolecular Research Building, the Bioformatics Building, the Science Complex and the Research and Teaching Building.

"First and foremost we have to recognize the people of North Carolina who gave our genome project a shot in the arm when they voted for the bond referendum," Moeser said.

A "Genomics 101" session followed the announcement and explained how genomics would aid in the research of cancer, cystic fibrosis and plant biology.

UNC first established a genetics department in the School of Medicine in July 2000, hiring Dr. Terry Magnuson as chairman. But the initiative will include faculty from all five health sciences schools, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Information and Library Science and the School of Law.

School of Medicine Dean Jeffrey Houpt, who spearheaded the initiative, marveled at the realization of their efforts after just a few short years. "Three years ago we had not one dollar, and we stand here today announcing we have $245 million," he said. "It's a remarkable story. A remarkable Carolina story."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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