The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has formed a
partnership with components of the National Institutes of Health
to establish a new research center to analyze common disorders
caused by the actions of multiple genes and interactions with the
The new Center for Inherited Disease Research, or CIDR, will give scientists a powerful approach to understanding common but poorly understood modern-day disorders such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and neurologic and psychiatric disorders.
Operating under a $21.8 million NIH contract over the next five years, CIDR will be housed in a 14,000-square-foot facility at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. Expected to be fully operational by the spring of 1997, the center will employ a staff of about 25.
"The interest of so many of the NIH institutes in pursuing the genetic basis of today's most common and confounding diseases signals a significant transition in our approach to understanding disease and opens the door to exciting new strategies for treatments and prevention," said NIH director Harold Varmus.
University president William R. Brody added that "Hopkins' commitment to molecular medicine and gene research is reflected in and strengthened by this center."
So far, scientists have been quick to apply new gene-finding tools developed by the Human Genome Project to uncover disease genes. These tools now make it possible for an investigator looking for a single gene to isolate it in a matter of months instead of years or even decades. The number of single disease genes identified using these tools has increased dramatically over the past few years. Understanding the inheritance of single-gene disorders--the so-called Mendelian disorders--is relatively straightforward because their hereditary patterns were well established a century ago and are still reliable today.
But most diseases of modern life--cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and a host of neuropsychiatric disorders-- seem to result from the activities of several genes and the interplay between a human body and its environment. The direct causes of these disorders have been hard to elucidate because they appear to be intertwined in complicated ways that have so far resisted the tools of modern science. Several genes seem to contribute to such disorders, but the effect of each gene is rather weak, making it much more difficult to understand why some members of a family develop chronic disorders while others do not.
"New technologies now give us the power to go after the genetic origins of ordinary diseases that are caused by multiple genes," said Robert Nussbaum, who came to the National Center for Human Genome Research three years ago with the aim of developing a center for studying the genetics of complex disorders. Nussbaum will oversee the contract from the NIH side. David Valle, a Hopkins professor of pediatrics, will serve as acting director of CIDR while a search is under way to fill the post.
CIDR will specialize in a technique known as genotyping-- sorting through the entire genetic complement, or genome, of disease-prone family members to search for not one, but many gene regions associated with that disease. Differences in genotype may point scientists toward DNA regions that are involved in a disease. Whole-genome analysis allows researchers to find lots of possible disease-related changes in a person's DNA.
CIDR researchers expect to analyze the genetics of six to nine complex disorders per year. To use CIDR, scientists in academic labs, NIH and industry will submit research proposals to a panel of scientists. The scientists will make recommendations to a CIDR governing board made up of directors of the institutes at NIH that fund the center.
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