Wake Forest Starts Center for Human Genomics

January 20, 2000

Wake Forest University School of Medicine is establishing a Center for Human Genomics to facilitate the identification of high-risk genes linked to common diseases, enabling improved treatment for these diseases.

The multidisciplinary, multidepartmental center will bring together current faculty members already involved in genetic research and up to 24 new faculty members who will be hired in genomics as part of the school''s just announced $67 million research initiative.

The genomic research will be broad in scope, encompassing all departments and involving just about every major research effort at the medical center - heart disease, cancer, diabetes, pulmonary diseases, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, women''s health and aging.

"It is now widely accepted that risk of developing many of the common diseases that plague human society, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and multiple forms of cancer, are intimately linked to the interaction of genetic factors and environmental exposures including lifestyle factors such as diet, physical activity and behavior," explained Stephen S. Rich, Ph.D., chair of the planning committee.

"As a result, each individual has an independent risk profile due to the genes that they have inherited from their parents and due to their own unique environmental exposure," said Rich, professor of public health sciences (epidemiology), neurology and cancer biology.

He said the center's goals include:

  • Identify the genetic and environmental contributions to disease

  • Assess the impact of genetic mutations in conjunction with environmental exposures, especially through various lifestyles.

  • Design innovative therapies, especially new drugs, for those with genetically linked diseases.

  • Develop an innovative clinical program.

  • Provide a basis for screening and developing interventions for those who are genetically susceptible.

"This approach will allow the integration of genetics into the every-day practice of clinical medicine, including development of clinic-based and community-based screening," Rich said.

The center will facilitate the consolidation of existing research programs into relatively contiguous space, with some labs in the Hanes Building, and new labs on the third floor of the adjacent Nutrition Center building. (The Nutrition Center is linked to Hanes on every level.) Many of the new faculty members will be added to this area.

The plan for the center couples existing faculty with new faculty from outside the institution, recruited to fill specific research needs.

The genomics center will have five program focuses, two of which already are well established: gene discovery -- the genetic basis of diabetes, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and population informatics - genetic and molecular epidemiology.

The center will provide additional support for three developing programs -- functional genomics, which includes developing drugs; translational genomics, which is understanding the function of human genes through the use of animal models and developing methods of gene therapy; and clinical translation, which is putting gene discoveries into clinical practice and disease prevention.

Some medical school faculty members already are working in all five areas, and the 24 new faculty would be integrated into all five programs.

Financial support for the ongoing work of the center will come from several sources, including private philanthropists.


Contact: Robert Conn, Mark Wright or Jim Steele at (336) 716-4587.

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