Wisconsin collaboration tackles genomics and personalized medicine

Jeffrey Bouley
MARSHFIELD, Wis.—In early October, Gov. Jim Doyle announced a collaboration between four Wisconsin research institutions to team up on genomics research and advance personalized healthcare efforts in what is being called the Wisconsin Genomics Initiative.
The initiative is a collaborative research effort among the Marshfield Clinic, the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (UWSMPH), and University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee (UWM).

"With our combined knowledge, expertise and technologies here in Wisconsin, we have an incredible opportunity to become a worldwide leader in personalized health care," Doyle said in the announcement.

Marshfield Clinic already is home to the Personalized Medicine Research Project, reportedly the largest population-based genetic research project in the country, and is serving an administrative role as part of its contribution to the effort.

"Two years ago at the groundbreaking for the Laird Center for Medical Research, Gov. Doyle issued a challenge to us and other in this area of research to look at things we could do together that would be greater than the sum of anything we might do individually," recalls Dr. Humberto Vidaillet, director of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation and principal investigator for the Wisconsin Genomics Initiative. "That's just what we did, and the Marshfield Clinic was asked to be the entity to administratively organize the ideas of the collaboration."

More to the point, the governor challenged the four institutions to combine and leverage resources to create a Wisconsin Medical Research Triangle, and the Wisconsin Genomics Initiative is the first public-private partnership and project stemming from that challenge.

Through this initiative, the four institutions will use combined resources to achieve the promise of personalized health care by developing scientific models to: Predict with high accuracy individual susceptibility to disease; precisely target personalized treatments; determine how well each person will respond to specific treatments; and prevent disease before it occurs.
Approximately 20,000 people have contributed their DNA and given researchers access to their complete electronic health records as part of the Marshfield Clinic's Personalized Medicine Research Project.

"These people have given us virtually unfettered access to their histories, including some medical records going back 90 years," Vidaillet says. "We have an average of 29 years of follow-up on these patients and 99 percent of them have agreed that we can re-contact them if the need arises."

As for the other collaborators, MCW is one of the top human genetic research centers in the country, capable of cost-effectively genotyping individual DNA samples. UWM conducts ongoing research in urban health care and health informatics, and its School of Nursing is active in research and community health engagement. UWSMPH is a global leader in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, and is said to be uniquely capable of the full biostatistical analysis of the vast data that will result from the Initiative's genotyping analysis.
 
"The goal is to build an engine and a database of information for the public good," Vidaillet says. "Our intent is not for organizations to have exclusive access to this data, but for it to be accessed across the country and around the world."
 

Jeffrey Bouley

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