April 18, 2008

Group Health part of UW's new Northwest Institute for Genetic Medicine

On April 18, 2008, the Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF) granted University of Washington (UW) scientists and researchers a $5.3 million, four-year grant to support the translation of human genetic research into clinical medicine. The grant will be used to launch the Northwest Institute of Genetic Medicine, a collaborative effort between researchers at the UW, Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute, Group Health, and local biotechnology companies.

The institute will bring together leaders in genetics and genomics as well as related topics such as bioethics. Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, executive director of the Group Health Center for Health Studies, will also team up with UW researchers as a subcontractor for the institute, with a subcontract of $700,000. Collaborating with Group Health offers researchers access to unique Group Health resources, including electronic health-care information dating back to the 1980s, a health plan with some 580,000 members in 20 of Washington's 39 counties, and interactions with the nationally recognized research efforts at Group Health.

The institute will facilitate the design, development and execution of translational genetic studies that bridge the gap between basic-science research and clinical studies at academic institutions and biotechnology companies. The goal of the institute's research will be to prevent illness and speed recovery by identifying which patients are at high risk for disease or best-suited to a specific treatment. For example, institute scientists are now working to identify infants with congenital heart defects who are at greatest risk for poor neurological outcomes. Identifying this genetic profile of at-risk infants may lead to modification of related surgeries or even an altering of therapies to prevent or reduce neurological problems.  

"We are thrilled to receive this generous grant from the Life Sciences Discovery Fund," said the institute's leader, UW's Dr. Gail Jarvik, Arno G. Motulsky Professor of Medicine and Genome Sciences and head of the Division of Medical Genetics. "Launching this collaborative effort will help us efficiently and cost-effectively apply existing and emerging genetic technologies to clinical data."

Genetic medicine is poised to improve health-care outcomes, and the institute aims to ensure that patients in the Pacific Northwest and across the country will benefit from research that strives to prevent disease and improve medical treatments. Study findings from the institute may help prevent adverse outcomes of medications and surgery, predict the most effective treatment for patients, and prevent disease in high-risk subjects. For example, Jarvik said, priorities for the researchers include predicting which patients will have muscle pain from cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and preventing complications from surgery. Investigators also will study ways to prevent adverse drug reactions and drug treatment failures, heart disease, immune disease and prematurity.

To learn more about medical genetics at the University of Washington, visit depts.washington.edu/medgen/. The Life Sciences Discovery Fund, a Washington state agency established in May 2005, makes grant investments in innovative life sciences research to benefit Washington and its citizens. For more information on the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, visit www.lsdfa.org