Genomics Initiative project unites four Wisconsin largest research institutions

Genomics Initiative project unites four Wisconsin largest research institutions: Wisconsin’s four biggest academic research institutions will collaborate on an initiative aimed at giving the state national stature in the fast-emerging field of individualized medicine, Gov. Jim Doyle said Friday. Editing by David Cook

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The Wisconsin Genomics Initiative will use existing capabilities of the institutions involved and seek federal grants to help figure out how to deliver the right medicines to the right patients at the right time.

The initiative will combine Marshfield Clinic’s unique DNA database, the Medical College of Wisconsin’s genetic research expertise, the supercomputer capability of the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health, and the urban health care research at UW-Milwaukee.

“Never before have these four institutions worked together on a project of this significance, size and scope,” Doyle said at a news conference in Marshfield.

The basis for the collaboration will be Marshfield’s unique database containing DNA donations from 20,000 people who have been followed by researchers at Marshfield Clinic for an average of 29 years, said Humberto Vidaillet, director of medical research at Marshfield, and principal investigator for the genomics initiative.

The Milwaukee institutions will help add to that database, and the UW-Madison medical school will use its computing horsepower to help sort through all the DNA sequences.

“It’s a unique collaboration that pulls together resources across Wisconsin that is hard to duplicate anywhere else in the nation,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

Say the initiative ends up with 25,000 DNA samples, Still said. With 1 million bits of genetic information in each, there will be billions of pieces of information to be analyzed, he said.

“I am convinced that every day that goes by that we don’t do it, we prolong unnecessary human suffering,” Vidaillet said.

Individualized, or personalized medicine is one of the fastest-growing areas of research, propelled by the international research of the Human Genome Project that in 2003 had sequenced all the genes in human DNA.

Because of this work, genetic tests have been developed that can more rapidly detect certain illnesses and show whether a person is predisposed to a variety of illnesses.

Mortality rates for heart disease have dropped dramatically and many more people are surviving cancer than in the 1950s, when former Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird and the late U.S. Rep. John E. Fogarty championed moves in Congress that led to the growth of the modern-day National Institutes of Health, Elias A. Zerhouni, outgoing director of the National Institutes of Health, said at the news conference in Marshfield.

Now medicine must try to conquer chronic diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s and even cancer, which has become more of a chronic condition in many cases, Zerhouni said.

It is those kinds of conditions that individualized medicine could address, Zerhouni said.

“We will have to prevent disease, not just cure it after it happens, with the best intervention at the right time, at the right cost, otherwise health care costs will never be controlled,” he said.

Following the news conference, Marshfield Clinic held a dedication ceremony for its $40 million, 162,000-square-foot Laird Center for Medical Research.

The center received $11 million of its funding from the federal government and was named after the former Republican congressman.

“All the research in the world is not worth very much if you don’t get it to patients, and (Marshfield Clinic) is an example of the best way to get it to patients,” Laird said.

Genomics Initiative project unites four Wisconsin largest research institutions: Wisconsin’s four biggest academic research institutions will collaborate on an initiative aimed at giving the state national stature in the fast-emerging field of individualized medicine, Gov. Jim Doyle said Friday. Editing by David Cook

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