HudsonAlpha, St. Jude awarded grant for genetic sequencing of birth defects and childhood cancers

HudsonAlpha and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital awarded $14.3 million grant for genetic sequencing of birth defects and childhood cancers

Huntsville, Ala. — HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital were jointly awarded a three-year, $14.3 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health Common Fund’s Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program (Kids First) to produce genetic sequencing data and create a centralized resource for study of birth defects and childhood cancers. The program will create a joint sequencing center run by Shawn Levy, PhD, of HudsonAlpha and Jinghui Zhang, PhD, of St. Jude. The center will sequence thousands of samples over the term of the grant. The new center will also offer a reliable and efficient data storage and data access capability that provides access, sharing and reporting to Kids First research program directors and investigators.

“Expanding our understanding of the genetic contributions and etiologies of birth defects and childhood cancer will have a significant and direct impact on individuals and families affected by those conditions and also contributes significantly to related research in adult conditions,” said Shawn Levy, PhD. Co-Principal Investigator for the HudsonAlpha-St. Jude program, Levy is a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha and runs HudsonAlpha’s Genomic Services Laboratory. “This centralized resource provides researchers with the tools and support necessary to advance our understanding of and drive us closer to curing or preventing these diseases.”

For the project, HudsonAlpha and St. Jude will pool their genetic sequencing and analysis innovation, capabilities and expertise to produce data for the research community that can be used to develop better tools for diagnosing and treating birth defects and pediatric cancers. The joint project will provide whole genome sequencing and analysis for both types of samples as well as RNA and whole exome sequencing data for the pediatric cancer samples.

 “Our joint expertise in high-throughput sequencing, genomic analysis and pediatric cancer genetic research will ensure that data generated from this program will be a valuable resource for developing tools to allow more advanced prediction, treatment and prevention of childhood cancer and birth defects,” said Jinghui Zhang, PhD, a co-principal investigator of this program. Zhang is the chair of the department of computational biology at St. Jude and holds the St. Jude Endowed Chair in bioinformatics. At St. Jude, Zhang has created new computational methods for analyzing genomic data, leading to new directions in research involving high-risk leukemia, brain and solid tumors through the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project – launched in 2010 with Washington University in St. Louis — an unprecedented effort to map the genomes of some of the deadliest childhood cancers.

The Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program supports two national sequencing centers. Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard also received a Kids First grant to provide genome sequencing in support of the pediatric research program. Stacey Gabriel, PhD, director of the Genomics Platform at the Broad, will lead their project.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund’s Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program (Kids First) under Award number U24HD090744. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

About Kids First: Childhood cancers and structural birth defects have profound, lifelong effects on patients and their families. While researchers are increasingly identifying the underlying biological causes of these conditions, the role of genetics is not yet fully understood. A better understanding will spur development of prevention, early detection, and therapeutic interventions. The National Institute of Health Common Fund’s Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program will capitalize on exciting advances in genetics research by developing a large-scale data resource. The resource will allow researchers everywhere access to vast amounts of childhood cancer and structural birth defects genetics data that will greatly accelerate their research. In addition, there is considerable scientific evidence that examining childhood cancer and structural birth defects together will uncover new connections between them that would not have been uncovered had one or the other been examined independently. By integrating large amounts of genetic data from patients with childhood cancer and structural birth defects, Kids First will facilitate new discoveries and novel ways of thinking about these conditions. This is anticipated to accelerate scientific progress in pediatric research that will improve the lives of the children and families impacted by these conditions.


About HudsonAlpha: HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a nonprofit institute dedicated to innovating in the field of genomic technology and sciences across a spectrum of biological challenges. Opened in 2008, its mission is four-fold: sparking scientific discoveries that can impact human health and well-being; bringing genomic medicine into clinical care; fostering life sciences entrepreneurship and business growth; and encouraging the creation of a genomics-literate workforce and society. The HudsonAlpha biotechnology campus consists of 152 acres nestled within Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second largest research park. Designed to be a hothouse of biotech economic development, HudsonAlpha’s state-of-the-art facilities co-locate nonprofit scientific researchers with entrepreneurs and educators. The relationships formed on the HudsonAlpha campus encourage collaborations that produce advances in medicine and agriculture. Under the leadership of Dr. Richard M. Myers, a key collaborator on the Human Genome Project, HudsonAlpha has become a national and international leader in genetics and genomics research and biotech education, and includes more than 30 diverse biotech companies on campus. To learn more about HudsonAlpha, visit:

About St. Jude: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit or follow St. Jude on Twitter and Instagram at @stjuderesearch.