CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Michael Ramsey, a chemistry professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wants to reduce the time needed and the extraordinary costs for human genome sequencing.

The National Institutes of Health likes his plans for achieving that goal.

This week, the NIH announced a $3.8 million grant over four years to help underwrite the costs of Ramsey’s research into “lab-on-a-chip” technology that he believes will transform DNA sequencing technology.

Ramsey believes he is on his way to developing a platform that can cut the cost of genome sequencing to $1,000 from $10 million (based on NIH estimates) and slash the time needed to around 50 minutes.

Such a development could make genomic sequencing much more useful for individualized healthcare based on a patient’s genomics.

Ramsey is seeking to use so-called microfluides and nanofluides to work at a nanometer (one billionth of a meter) scale so tests could be performed on tiny silicon, glass or plastic chips.

“At this scale, it’s possible to make a tiny hole, a pore less than two nanometers in diameter, which is the approximate diameter of a single strand of DNA when it is stretched into a straight line,” Ramsey said in a statement. “This has opened up the possibility of new methods for sequencing the DNA strands.”

Ramsey’s grant was the largest among a series of awards totaling more than $13 million through the NIH National Human Genome Research Institute. One of the Institute’s goals with the grants is to dramatically cut genomic sequencing costs. The NIH program also wants to enable researchers to sequence genomes of people participating in studies in an attempt to identify genes that contribute to common diseases.

Ramsey, who teaches in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, was one of the founding faculty members for the Carolina Center of Cancer Technology Excellence.

He has been working on the lab-on-a-chip technology for more than a decade. In 1996, his research received Discover magazine’s Technology Award and a “100 Award” from R&D magazine.

Ramsey also recently received the top award in chromatography (analyzing complex mixtures by separating them into chemicals from which the mixtures were made) from the American Chemical Society.

For more information about Ramsey’s research, see: research.unc.edu/endeavors/win2006/feature_01.php