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Updated 10:00 AM March 27, 2006
 

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  Medical School
Center will help shorten research-to-clinic gap

One day in the not-so-distant future, a DNA test will be as much a part of an ordinary doctor's visit as a blood pressure check. By scanning each patient's unique genetic code, doctors will be able to predict which patients are most likely to develop a specific disease and select the most effective therapy.

Research advances in genetics have the potential to transform the practice of medicine. But to achieve that potential, laboratory scientists and clinical researchers must work together to make the difficult transition from scientific discovery to clinical practice.

To facilitate that transition, the Medical School has created the Center for Genetics in Health and Medicine (CGHM). Funded with an initial $2.5 million grant from the Medical School, the center's overall mission is to enhance scientific interaction among U-M scientists and clinicians conducting genetics-related research in many different fields.

"Collaboration is the key to the future of genetic medicine, but our researchers are scattered in separate departments throughout the Medical School and across the University," says Dr. Allen Lichter, dean of the Medical School. "This center will bring U-M clinicians and scientists together to focus on complex interdisciplinary research questions. It will provide specialized core laboratory facilities and the expertise required for advanced genetics research. In addition, the center will help train the next generation of physicians and scientists."

Just five years after the draft sequence of the human genome was published, genetics is beginning to permeate all fields of medicine, says Sally Camper, the James V. Neel Collegiate Professor of Human Genetics and chair of the Department of Human Genetics.

"The 'genomics era' presents us with a remarkable opportunity to improve diagnosis, prevention and treatment of human genetic diseases and to identify the risk factors for common, complex diseases—such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer—which have both genetic and environmental components," Camper says.

One of Camper's immediate goals for the center is to nurture promising graduate students, research fellows, medical students and genetic counseling students who are preparing for careers in medical genetics by providing new interdisciplinary educational programs and financial support.

Camper says the center will have a core group of 30-40 researchers from clinical and basic science departments across the University and a larger group of affiliate members. She also plans to recruit four to six additional investigators, all of whom will have joint appointments in genetics and clinical medicine.

Camper will serve as interim director of the center until a permanent director is hired.

Another immediate goal is to provide core laboratory support services and state-of-the-art technical facilities for use by researchers.

A Family Studies Core Facility will be developed to assist investigators with clinical research. Staff will identify and recruit families and individuals who are interested in participating in research, obtain informed consent and medical histories, and collect blood or tissue samples for genetic analysis.

A Genetic Analysis Core Laboratory will provide shared access to the expensive, high-tech equipment required to rapidly sequence and genotype blood and tissue samples for use in scientific and clinical research studies.

An internal faculty steering committee has been appointed to develop and implement plans for the center. The committee includes: Goncalo Abecasis, associate professor of biostatistics; Dr. Thomas Glaser, associate professor of human genetics and internal medicine; Dr. Stephen Gruber, associate professor of internal medicine, human genetics and epidemiology; Dr. Marci Lesperance, associate professor of otolaryngology; Dr. Donna Martin, assistant professor of human genetics, and pediatrics and communicable diseases; Miriam Meisler, professor of human genetics; Dr. Richard Neubig, professor of pharmacology and associate professor of internal medicine; Dr. Elizabeth Petty, associate professor of human genetics and internal medicine; Julia Richards, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, and epidemiology; Wendy Uhlmann, genetic counselor in internal medicine; Dr. Jeffrey Warren, professor of pathology; and Beverly Yashar, assistant professor of human genetics.

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