U.S. Researchers To Join International $100 Million Genetic Map Project To Help Identify Causes of Diseases
Researchers from the United States and five other countries plan to spend $100 million over the next three years to construct a genetic map that will help determine the "roots of humanity's most pervasive ailments," the Wall Street Journal reports (Regalado/Abboud, Wall Street Journal, 10/30). Under the project, scientists from Japan, China, Canada, England and the United States will analyze the genomes found in different ethnicities, including people of Han Japanese and Chinese descent, the Yoruba people of Nigeria and Americans of European descent (Gillis, Washington Post, 10/30). The International HapMap Project -- named for the large chunks of DNA called haplotypes that the research will study -- seeks to map the small segments of DNA that differ among individuals, unlike the Human Genome Project, which is decoding shared DNA structures (Wall Street Journal, 10/30). Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH -- which will contribute $39 million to the project -- said he believes the map will help identify about 60% of the genes that account for common diseases. The project "will provide a critical missing link to allow researchers all over the world to uncover the hereditary factors in common disease and behind the response to drug therapy," Collins said.
Some scientists "do not yet agree on the nature or the extent of the haplotypes in the human genome" and do not believe the mapping project will be successful, according to the New York Times. Dr. Kenneth Kidd, a population geneticist at Yale University, said, "I have some major reservations. I'm not opposed to going ahead, but a smaller-scale effort would probably be better. When there are fundamental basic science questions, a factory-like approach is not the best way" (Wade, New York Times, 10/30). The Journal reports that several biotechnology companies could benefit from the project. Pharmaceutical manufacturers hope to use the finished map to determine genetic markers that "predict patients' response" to particular treatments, according to the Journal (Wall Street Journal, 10/30). NPR's "All Things Considered" yesterday reported on the project. The segment includes comments from Collins and David Altshuler from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Whitehead Institute (Harris, "All Things Considered," NPR, 10/29). The full segment is available in RealPlayer online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.