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Press release

Commission supports genomics research by networking mouse model archives
A new result of Commissioner Busquin's 'Genomes for Human Health' Initiative


Brussels, 11 June 2001

Key words: Human health, medical research, research infrastructures, genomics

EMBARGO: 11 June 2001 at 11.30 (CET)

The European Commission has announced today the starting of negotiations with the European Mutant Mouse Archive consortium to allocate a EUR 4.5 million research grant. The objective is to strengthen a 'virtual mouse archive' constituted by a network of European stock and research centres. Ultimately, as the mouse is a suitable model for human genomics, this will help researchers to better understand human disorders (such as cancers) and how they may be treated and cured. The project was selected following a competitive evaluation process that assessed both the scientific merits as well as the safety and ethical provisions of the proposals.

Said Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin: "Support to EMMA is a good illustration of the European added value to networking leading research centres and infrastructures for human health research. Along with bio-informatics, animal models are a major asset enabling us to deliver more benefits for society in the post-genomic era. Europe can only be world class if we work better together."

This support to EMMA is another result of the Commissioner's 'Genomes for Human Health' initiative launched in November 2000. Since then, EUR 25 million have already been earmarked for concrete activities in support of bioinformatics and animal models.

"The mouse has become the key model for biomedical and medical research. The European scientific community is internationally competitive in the production and characterisation of mouse models for inherited diseases. However, it is proving to be impossible, for even the largest and best-funded research institutes, to retain all of these animals. It is essential that all mutants that are created are retained and held in a well organised, central repository-network from which they can readily be made available to interested investigators." This is the declared objective of the EMMA consortium as described by its director, Prof. Martin Hrabé de Angelis.

A press briefing will be organised in Rome on
Monday 11 June 2001 at 11:30
(see programme enclosed).

The mutant mouse deluge

Colossal amount of data is not the only avalanche triggered by the febrile research activity in the post-genomic era. Increasing numbers of genetically modified mice strains are also being produced in labs around the world as they provide the means to unravel gene function in a targeted and precise way. And also to learn how human disorders appear and, more importantly, how they may be treated and cured.

Some figures may give an idea of the exploding needs of these mice for research:

  • In terms of specimen, only in the UK, some 500,000 mutant mice were used in 1999, as recently reported by the British Royal Society. France plans to handle some 60 to 70 thousands specimens of mutant mice in a new facility to be built at the Génopole in Strasbourg over the coming years.
  • In terms of new type of mutants, over the last ten years 2,500 mutant lines have been identified. Recently, two groups led by laboratories involved in the EMMA consortium, the MRC in the UK and the GSF in Germany, reported last year in Nature Genetics to have created 500 and 429 new mutants respectively in the framework of National Genome projects.

The interest of keeping this increasing number of genetically modified mice is enormous, as creating, screening and characterising those mutants require a heavy investment. Moreover, the development of new techniques to generate mutants opens the way to a systematic creation of new strains that can then be stored for subsequent use in biomedical research. The expected result is to have an efficient archive of mutant mice offering the scientific community efficient search mechanisms a well as access and delivery methods of the desired strains. This is what the EMMA consortium is committed to achieve using the Community funds that will be made available upon successful conclusion of ongoing negotiations.

Why mouse?

Mice are small, they grow fast and reproduce quickly. And because they are mammals they share with humans most of its genome, which turns out to be of similar size and to have a comparable number of genes. This makes of them a suitable model for human genomics and human health research.

For the last 20 years mouse has been used to reproduce in a smaller scale the conditions leading to disorders of major concern for humans, namely cancer. They provide also a controlled environment to test the effectiveness of new drugs that later on will be developed into medicines for humans.

With the advent of genomics knowledge, mouse become increasingly interesting for geneticists and doctors as they develop the ability to tailor the genetic constitution of the offspring, therefore allowing them to create strains with the desired genotype and phenotype characteristics.

New technologies have been developed that allow scientists to rapidly generate new types of mutants, be it by eliminating genes (knock-out), by transferring new ones or even by introducing genes from other species, for example human. Usually, all these changes are induced at the early stages of development in the embryos. Most recently, new techniques allow producing changes in adults at a specific age and in target tissues.

Studies based on mutant mice have produced spectacular advances in human health research. For example in understanding the origin and ethiology of the breast cancer, in repairing the heart tissue destroyed after an infarcts or in unravelling unknown pigments in eyes that may be responsible for the circadian rhythms in mammals.

Specialised centres needed

Storing and maintaining strains of mutant mice is a complicated business. Stock centres require strict application of sanitary and security rules to avoid internal and external contamination. Highly specialised and trained personnel is needed at every level of the management chain of the stock centre, to a point that even the cleaning of cages and feeding of animals require extreme care and technical, non-obvious knowledge.

Only a fraction of the mutants are stored as living animals. An important stock potential of the facility is the capacity to maintain frozen embryos and sperm from which complete individual may be restored when needed. Also, the living stocks require regular renewal to ensure acceptable level of availability of specimen.

To give an idea of the costs linked to the maintenance of mutants under the best quality and ethical standards, it is worthwhile mentioning that every mutant line needs to store 500 frozen embryos, and need to be replaced when stock falls under 250 embryos; it needs 30 aliquots of frozen sperm are kept; and finally, the live stock of highly demanded lines requires some 50 animals permanently available.

Taking into consideration all overheads costs, personnel, training and databasing, the average cost of storing and maintaining each mutant line is between EUR 5,000 and 7,000.

The EMMA network

The European Mutant Mouse Archive is not one centre, but a network of stock centres and research institutions involved in biomedical research. Currently, seven groups constitute the network (see annex), but new ones will join in the new future.

The network aims at working as a single entity that will be virtually perceived by users as a single centre. Yet, the seven partners contribute to the project with their own animal facilities, personnel and equipment.

Key to the success of this perception as one single facility is the development of the EMMA Resource Database entrusted to the European Bioinformatics Institute that will provide a single-entry point to access all information on strains stored in any node of the network.

The central repository of the network is the animal facility at Monterotondo, near Rome, where the CNR has made available 1,750 m2 of top-class installations since April 1999 with the support of the European Commission. The centre has an estimated total mouse capacity of 40,000 specimen.

The fruits of Commissioner Busquin's initiative on 'Genomes for Human Health'

On 16 November 2000, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin launched an initiative to reinforce European activities in genome research related to human health. In the framework of this initiative, the development of new genome-based technologies, as well as new bioinformatics tools, were recognised as key factors for enabling a competitive genome research and the development of new diagnostics and new therapeutic approaches.

Following the launching of the initiative, EUR 25 million were immediately earmarked to support projects dealing with post-genomics databases and suitable animal models for human health, considered as essential infrastructures in the field.

The current grant being negotiated, amounting to EUR 4,5 million for two projects, is the another example of research infrastructures support under this initiative, coming less than six months after its launch.

A further EUR 40 million are expected to support decisive research activities in post-genomics through a limited number of integrated projects, which combine research, co-ordination and training in one single action. The projects will be selected following a competitive call before the end of year 2001.

These EUR 65 million will be committed in 2001 on top of the regular support for genome research activities of the Quality of Life programme. In total, the Community will allocate some EUR 100 million to support genome research in 2001.

The projects

The project being negotiated with the EMMA consortium will address the most pressing demands related to the need of a solid infrastructural basis enabling further research, namely the networking of the participating centres and the expansion of the EMMA services

  • EMMAnet (EUR 565,000). The project aims at establishing an effective co-ordination of all EMMA nodes and to building-up the virtual EMMA facility.

  • EMMAworks (EUR 4 million) 650 new biomedical relevant mutant lines will be added to the facility. The project will also develop the gnotobiology programme aiming at enabling studies on interaction between gene expression and environmental conditions. The EMMA Resource Database will be further developed to offer an efficient information tool to the scientific community.

The consortium



For additional information:

About EMMA:

Carlos Martinez-Riera, Quality of Life programme, Research DG
Tel.: +, Fax: +

Michel Claessens, Communication Unit, Research DG
Tel : +32-2-295.99.71 - Fax: +32-2-295.82.20

Rome, 11 June 2001

EMMA-EC press briefing programme

from 11:30 to 13:00pm
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche
Piazzale Aldo Moro,7
00185, Roma, Italy

All interested members of the press are invited to attend.
Questions related to the press conference should be addressed to:
Prof. P. Glauco Tocchini-Valentini,
tel.: tel:+39-06-9060317


11:30Carlos Martinez-Riera
European Commission
11:45Prof. Martin Hrabé de Angelis
EMMA Director
12:00Prof. Arturo Falaschi
Governing Board of CNR
12:15Dr. Walter Witke
Senior Scientist Mouse Biology Programme, EMBL
12:30Prof. Glauco Tocchini-Valentini
Director of the Cell Biology Institute, CNR
12:35Questions and Answers
13:00Buffet Lunch


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