Jackson Lab launches precision genetics center

Center’s mission is to create disease models to develop therapies for life-threatening and genetically complex conditions

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BAR HARBOR, Maine—The flood of human genetic data that has emerged in recent years presents researchers with a significant challenge: using this abundant genetic information to create more sophisticated disease models that can be used in preclinical research. A new Center for Precision Medicine at The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) will be focused on doing just that.
JAX, a non-profit biomedical research institute, announced last month that it had received a nearly $10-million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund its new center. The center’s mission is to create precision models of disease that can be used to develop therapies for life-threatening and genetically complex human diseases.
“This center allows us to build on work that we’ve been doing for many years and to leverage our ongoing programs and expertise in mammalian genetics,” Rob Burgess, principal investigator of the center, tells DDNews. “There has been an ongoing interest here in this kind of disease modeling, and this grant allows us to formalize that pipeline and to discover how we can best model diseases in the mouse genome.”
The center will be based in JAX’s Bar Harbor, Maine, headquarters but will serve as a hub for an international, multidisciplinary team that includes geneticists and genetics technology experts, molecular and computational biologists, clinical experts in specific disease areas and world leaders in the development of precision mouse models of disease. JAX expects that the center will collaborate with researchers from Emory University, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, the San Diego and San Francisco campuses of the University of California, Columbia University Medical Center, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Scientists at JAX’s new genomic medicine institute in Farmington, Conn., are also expected to contribute to research.
The grant offers funding over five years, with just a little over $1.99 million available during the first year. The initial funding will be used to launch six projects and to engage several of Jackson Lab’s core scientific services, such as a bioinformatics pipeline, that could improve the precision of disease models and the efficiency of the preclinical pipelines being developed at the center.
Burgess tells DDNews that each of the center’s six initial projects will be focused on a different disorder. The project led by Burgess will examine Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, an incurable neurological disorder. “We have a specific disease variant that we’ve been studying in mice for the last ten years,” says Burgess. “My project is working to humanize those models.”
The other five projects are focused on epilepsy, neuromuscular disease, macular degeneration and kidney disease. “What really makes this center interesting and unique is the breadth of disorders we are researching, rather than just focusing on cancer or a single disease area,” says Burgess.
JAX President and CEO Edison Liu said in a statement that JAX was awarded the grant largely due to its long-established expertise in mammalian genetics and disease modeling, paired with the human clinical samples, data and collaborations of the new JAX Genomic Medicine operation  in Farmington.
“Ultimately,” Liu said, “the center will generate new disease modeling processes and pipelines, data resources, research results and models that will be swiftly shared through JAX’s proven dissemination pipelines to accelerate translation to medical benefit.”
Burgess tells DDNews that the NIH has also awarded grants to fund the creation of two other centers for precision genetics, both of which will be focused on creating disease models for various forms of cancer. One center will be at the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital and another at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “It will be valuable to have the opportunity for us to interact with other centers and learn what they are doing and to find out what’s working and what isn’t so we can optimize disease modeling,” says Burgess.

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