The grants will allow them complete access to Agilent genomics technology, which comprises of microarrays, reagents, hardware and data analysis tools. As part of the NCI initiative, each Cancer Genome Characterisation Centers (CGCC) is expected to process a minimum of 1,000 clinical samples per year.
The grants were awarded to seven institutions that were awarded a combined $35m (€28m) over three years and include the University of North Carolina, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
The CGCC places an emphasis on high-throughput, high-resolution technologies to detect genomic, epigenomic and transcriptome aberrations, including alterations in DNA segment copy numbers, translocations, loss of heterozygosity, altered DNA methylation patterns and changes in gene expression, all of which may play a role in cancer.
The pilot project will explore the benefits of a systematic approach for analysing specific types and subtypes of tumours.
"It is gratifying that Agilent microarrays are playing such a major role in this vital program," said Agilent director of genomics marketing Kevin Meldrum.
"The utility of microarrays has expanded beyond gene expression to applications such as CGH, DNA Methylation, and miRNA. We're enabling these studies as well as developing our microarray technology by optimising the balance between density, sensitivity and flexibility with our platform."
Oligonucleotide microarrays comprise short sequences of nucleotides, often used as probes for detecting complementary DNA or RNA.
Array CGH technology provides a way of studying chromosomal aberrations, including copy number changes and rearrangements, across the entire genome simultaneously.
In genetics, microRNAs are single-stranded RNA molecules of about 21-23 nucleotides in length thought to regulate the expression of other genes.
The University of North Carolina (UNC) group will perform genome-wide gene expression profiling and microRNA expression profiling, both using Agilent DNA oligo microarrays
Meanwhile, the UNC group chose the Agilent platform because of its flexibility in gene content, which allows researchers to change any feature, or gene, at any time.
As new genes, microRNAs or gene splice forms are discovered, they can easily and seamlessly be included into the next phase of microarrays.
"The Agilent platform provides proven sensitivity and specificity for each feature," said UNC's Charles Perou, assistant professor, Department of Genetics.
"Along with streamlined protocols and hardware that will allow us to achieve the demanding high-throughput needs of the Cancer Genome Atlas project," he added.