Stimulus funds to give scientific research a boost in N.C.

Triangle area researchers won a massive infusion of $145 million in federal stimulus money Wednesday for scientific projects large and small — including an ambitious effort to seek cancer treatments by unraveling the complex genetics of tumors.

Of the 521 grants awarded to the state, 415 are in the 4th Congressional District, which includes the Triangle. The big winners were UNC-Chapel Hill, with 186 grants worth more than $60 million, and Duke University, with 181 grants totaling more than $75 million.

The stimulus bill enacted this year included $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health, which opened the financial spigot to projects that might have otherwise taken years to fund.

In addition to creating high-paying jobs in scientific fields, the money will spur the pace of discovery into conditions that affect millions, including heart disease, autism, Alzheimer's and breast cancer.

"What it should do is help to extend existing research programs but also help to create new research programs into the future that will be very competitive with respect to obtaining other funding," said Wayne Holden, an executive vice president with RTI International, a think tank in Research Triangle Park that received 10 grants.

One of the largest awards is headed to UNC-CH, which was tapped as one of 12 research institutions in the nation to receive a Cancer Genome Atlas Grant for research into the mechanisms of how cancer grows and spreads. That knowledge is crucial for developing new therapies and even cures.

The five-year award could total from $13 million to $20 million, university officials said, and will result in the hiring of at least six people for lab and computer work.

"It's really the next phase of the Human Genome Project," said Dr. Charles Perou, referring to the huge national effort to create a blueprint of the human DNA sequence. Perou, associate professor of genetics, and pathology and laboratory medicine, is one of the leaders of the university's cancer atlas project.

"Now what we need is a blueprint of what it is to be a cancer tumor," he said.

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