November 2, 2004

It took 12 years and $2.7 billion for scientists to decode most of the human genome — the entire genetic information of one person, according to the National Institutes of Health.

An Arizona State University researcher has received a $550,000 grant from the institutes to reduce the time and cost to a matter of hours and less than $1,000.

The breakthrough could spell the end of cancer and other diseases, according to Stuart Lindsay, a physics professor at ASU’s Biodesign Institute.

"The potential is enormous," Lindsay said.

Lindsay wants to create a chemical ring that a DNA molecule could pass through — like a wire passing through a bead. The ring would decode the chemical sequence of a DNA molecule as it slipped through.

DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid, is made up of chemicals that carry genetic information to cells. DNA is the basis of heredity.

Using the method, doctors could understand a patient’s genetic makeup within hours. Today’s methods for DNA sequencing are too slow, costly and imprecise to afford wide use.

The method would allow doctors to determine the coding sequence of DNA from cancerous cells, compare it to DNA from healthy cells, then suggest a treatment.

Lindsay said the project faces formidable obstacles. A useful analogy is someone upending Mount Everest and locating a pea with the summit, he said.

"I was amazed the NIH funded our proposal," Lindsay said. However, the reason the project won funding is that it is an unusual approach, he said.

Success probably would occur within 10 years, he said.

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