The New York Genome Center (NYGC) will receive a combined $125 million gift from the Simons Foundation and The Carson Family Charitable Trust, saying the money will help support the Center’s growth and research into autism, ALS, dementia and cancer.
NYGC said the gift, to be awarded over five years, will support its efforts to build and maintain the genomic infrastructure required for its work with institutional founding members in establishing research collaborations in cancer, as well as neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases.
“This new gift will make it possible to accelerate research into our key disease focus areas, leveraging our strengths in whole genome sequencing, computational analyses, and development of new genomic tools,” Tom Maniatis, PhD, NYGC’s Scientific Director and CEO, said in a statement. “We are enormously grateful to our longtime donors for this remarkable gift and for their generous philanthropy to the Center since its founding.”
The NYGC’s Center for Common Disease Genomics has received more than $40 million from the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute over the last four years to support whole genome-based research into the underlying causes of autism and other complex diseases. Researchers at the NYGC have contributed to a collaborative large-scale whole genome sequencing program focused on understanding the genetic basis of autism.
The NYGC said it will now extend its studies of whole genome DNA sequences of autism patients and their families into other neuropsychiatric diseases—such as schizophrenia and bipolar diseases, in which common genetic risk genes have been identified.
Another area of research to be supported through the gift is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), in which the NYGC established the NYGC ALS Consortium, a global research collaborative with more than 30 members in five countries. Last year, the Consortium and Hemali Phatnani, PhD, Director of NYGC’s Center for Genomics of Neurodegenerative Disease (CGND), detailed the discovery of KIF5A as a new gene associated with the development of ALS, in a study published in Neuron.
NYGC scientists and their collaborators have used new technologies for multidimensional mapping of gene expression in ALS that have offered new insights into the mechanisms that contribute to disease onset and progression. These findings, according to the Center, have advanced the understanding of disease mechanisms in all neurodegenerative diseases which share common pathways with ALS, including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.
The NYGC said its researchers apply CRISPR, single cell sequencing, and other genomics tools to advance cancer research. The Center has also worked to develop whole genome sequencing methods for cancer diagnosis and innovative population-level cancer analytics that apply novel mathematical and statistical approaches to the understanding of the relationship between DNA sequence changes and disease.
Also in cancer, the NYGC serves as the convening hub for the Genome Center Cancer Group (GCCG), a collaborative working group comprised of cancer researchers and clinicians from the NYGC’s member institutions. The GCCG is led by Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus, MD, who is also Lewis Thomas University Professor & Senior Advisor to the Dean & Provost at Weill Cornell Medicine, and a former NIH Director and former president and CEO of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
The GCCG recently launched the Polyethnic-1000 collaborative cancer research initiative, directed towards the study of cancer genomes from under-represented minority populations, with the goal of understanding the role of genetic diversity in cancer and addressing ethnic disparities in cancer research and diagnosis.
The joint gift includes a $100 million contribution from the Simons Foundation, whose chairman Jim Simons, PhD, serves on the NYGC’s board; and $25 million from The Carson Family Charitable Trust, led by NYGC board co-chair Russell L. Carson.
“The NYGC plays a critical role as a collaborative hub, tapping into and harnessing the multidisciplinary, multi-institutional expertise of researchers from New York and across the country,” Carson stated. “We hope this gift will inspire others to contribute to the Center and invest in its work.”
Added Dr. Simons: “A gift to the NYGC is an investment in the future of scientific discovery.”
In addition to philanthropic donations, the NYGC is funded through member institutions, New York State, New York City, and the Partnership Fund for New York City, an evergreen fund that is capitalized by the city’s business and finance leaders. Since 1996, the Fund has invested more than $160 million in city-based initiatives designed to create jobs, spur new business creation and expand opportunities.