July 9, 1999

VUMC designated as Genetic Epidemiology Center

VUMC designated as Genetic Epidemiology Center


Jonathan Haines, Ph.D., helped develop plans for the new Genetic Epidemiology Center. (photo by Donna Jones Bailey)

Vanderbilt's Program in Human Genetics will play a central role in efforts by Glaxo Wellcome to identify the genes involved in common diseases. The pharmaceutical giant has designated Vanderbilt as one of the initial three Genetic Epidemiology Centers in the world.

The designation is part of a large-scale plan by Glaxo Wellcome to harness the power of genetics for drug development and discovery.

"Knowing the genes involved in a specific disease will mean that new pharmaceuticals can be targeted to the patients most likely to benefit," said Jonathan L. Haines, Ph.D., associate professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and director of the Program in Human Genetics. "Using the genes as probes to understand the biology of the disease will lead to the discovery of better drug targets and the development of more effective drugs."

Haines helped Glaxo Wellcome develop its plan for setting up Clinical Genetics Networks to search for the genetic basis of common diseases.

"I have known and collaborated with Jonathan Haines for two decades and asked him to be a consultant when we set up the Genetics Directorate," said Dr. Allen D. Roses, vice president and world-wide director for Genetics at Glaxo Wellcome. "Jonathan is a talented and experienced genetic epidemiologist and has insight into the analysis of susceptibility gene research."

The Glaxo Wellcome plan includes:

o Clinical Networks to identify candidate families and collect clinical information and blood samples;

o DNA Banking and Genotyping Centers to isolate DNA, store blood and DNA samples, and conduct high throughput genotyping; and

o Genetic Epidemiology Centers to design and coordinate an entire project and analyze the results.

In addition to Vanderbilt, Duke and Boston University Medical Centers will serve as Genetic Epidemiology Centers.

"Glaxo Wellcome ultimately expects to study several diseases of major unmet medical need," Haines said. "At Vanderbilt, we are currently setting up for projects on depression and susceptibility to complications from sepsis."

Duke's Center for Human Genetics has two projects under way: the Asthma Clinical Genetics Network to identify the genetic basis for asthma and the GeneCard Clinical Genetics Network to identify the inherited risk of early onset cardiovascular disease.

Vanderbilt is one of six international sites in the Clinical Network for the GeneCard project. Each site in the network will enroll 100 sibling pairs who have symptoms of early heart disease – such as heart attack, men under age 50 and women under age 55. Patients will be recruited through clinic and physician referrals, and pre-existing heart disease will be verified from medical records and testing including electrocardiograms, cardiac catheterization, cardiac enzyme tests, and stress tests. Participants will donate a blood sample for DNA analysis.

Glaxo Wellcome has provided the funding for Vanderbilt's Program in Human Genetics to build the computing and analytical cores necessary for it to function as a Genetic Epidemiology Center. Once built, this computing infrastructure can be easily expanded to incorporate other projects.

"Having these facilities positions us to make significant contributions to finding the genes involved in many different common diseases," Haines said.