NIAID Offers "SARS Chip" Free to Researchers

WASHINGTON -- To spur research on severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announces a free distribution program for a new "SARS chip" that will enable researchers to rapidly detect tiny genetic variations among different SARS virus strains. The announcement is the result of an alliance of government, not-for-profit and industry partners.

NIAID has purchased several hundred SARS microarrays - essentially a reference strain of the SARS coronavirus embedded in a quartz chip - and will distribute the arrays at no cost to qualified researchers worldwide. Distribution of the GeneChip brand SARS Array, made by Affymetrix, Inc., will be coordinated by the NIAID's Pathogen Functional Genomics Resource Center (PFGRC). The PFGRC is operated by the Institute for Genomic Research under a contract from NIAID. Any researcher can request the SARS Array using a simple Web-based application process.

"Through this collaboration, NIAID has quickly responded to make this genomic resource widely available to the SARS research community," says NIAID director Anthony S. Fauci, MD. "This powerful tool will help us better understand this newly recognized pathogen and its spread, and will provide new leads in our search for effective SARS countermeasures."

No vaccine or specific treatments exist for the pneumonia-like disease, which has infected more than 8,400 people and caused about 800 deaths since it emerged for the first time in November 2002.

The new array comprises the 29,700 DNA base pairs of the SARS coronavirus. It was designed using data from research centers in the United States, Canada and Asia that had sequenced the complete genome of the SARS coronavirus. The SARS Array will help scientists achieve a number of objectives:

By comparing the genomes of different SARS virus isolates and then using genetic relatedness to group them into subtypes, scientists can construct a "family tree" of the SARS coronaviruses.

By comparing clinical outcomes among individuals infected with different SARS virus subtypes, scientists can determine which strains are most dangerous and gain key information for the development of targeted antiviral drugs.

Over time, epidemiologists can trace how the virus evolves as it spreads to different populations in different geographic locales.

In 2001, NIAID awarded a five-year contract to TIGR to establish and operate the PFGRC. The PFGRC is a centralized facility providing the research community with resources and training needed to conduct functional genomics studies on a variety of human pathogens and invertebrate vectors of disease for which genomic sequence information is available.

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, illness from potential agents of bioterrorism, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.

TIGR, located in Rockville, Md., is a not-for-profit research institute that conducts research involving the structural, functional, and comparative analysis of genomes and gene products in viruses, bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes. Affymetrix, based in Santa Clara, CA, applies the principles of semiconductor technology to the life sciences, developing and commercializing systems that enable scientists to improve the quality of life.

Source: NIH