President's Report 2006 | Research

External funding for genomics project

President Axel Meisen, Lynn Sparkes, executive-director of the Janeway Foundation; and Joan Burke, minister of education.

Joan Burke, minister of education, was on the St. John’s campus June 16 to announce $803,000 in provincial funding towards a research project on human genetic diseases in Atlantic Canada. The Atlantic Medical Genetics and Genomics Initiative (AMGGI) at Memorial University is led by molecular geneticist Dr. Terry-Lynn Young and at Dalhousie University by Dr. Mark Samuels, in partnership with Genome Atlantic.

“This investment by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador will enable ground-breaking research programs that will benefit the future health of our population,” said Minister Burke. “We are committed to enabling world-class genomics research right here in Newfoundland and Labrador. The AMGGI project will generate tangible socio-economic benefits, by improving health care and disease management for affected individuals and families in Atlantic Canada.”

The Janeway Children’s Hospital Foundation is also making a significant financial contribution to this research project, which includes investigating the genetic origins of childhood onset genetic disorders. Lynn Sparkes, executive director of the Janeway Children’s Hospital Foundation, announced that the foundation will contribute $400,000 to the project. She noted that 33 per cent of admissions to the Janeway are related to inherited genetic diseases.

“This research will lead to improved clinical care and prognostic information for affected families and for those institutions who work with children of these families, including health care and educational providers,” said Ms. Sparkes.

Minister Burke and Ms. Sparkes were joined by Dr. Steven Armstrong, vice-president (research and business development) with Genome Atlantic, and Memorial University representatives President Axel Meisen, Dr. Christopher Loomis, vice-president (research); Dr. James Rourke, dean of Medicine; and AMGGI researchers molecular geneticist Dr. Young and bioethicist Dr. Daryl Pullman.

Dr. Armstrong said the collective investment of $9.2 million in AMGGI will enable the research team to carry out a project large enough in scope to yield a meaningful impact on the research capacity in Atlantic Canada. “It is well positioned to produce socio-economic impact through innovations in the diagnosis and management of a series of genetic diseases that create challenges for many Atlantic Canadian families and burden our regional the health care system.”

The AMGGI team at Memorial is led by Dr. Terry-Lynn Young (sitting). Co-investigators include (L-R) Drs. Patrick Parfrey, Daryl Pullman, Fern Brunger and Jane Green. This photo was taken in front of the DNA sequencer in Dr. Young’s lab. Co-investigator Dr. Bridget Fernandez was unavailable for the photo. Photo by HSIMS.

The AMGGI project brings together molecular biologists, clinical researchers, genetic diagnostic laboratories and ethics researchers in a pan-Atlantic effort to identify gene mutations that cause inherited diseases in communities throughout the Atlantic Provinces. Once identified, the genes will be the basis for new genetic tests that can be used in the early diagnosis of the diseases. AMGGI will also contribute to the development of public policy guiding the integration of genetic tests into the health care system.

“Our research will pinpoint the genes that are the root causes of many genetic diseases that affect Atlantic Canadians, and contribute to our overall understanding of the function of the 25,000 genes in the human genome,” said Dr. Young.

Dr. James Rourke, dean of Medicine, said, “This research will lead to improved methods for the early diagnosis of genetic diseases, an essential element in the effective treatment of many of these debilitating conditions.”

Dr. Pullman noted that society’s ability to adjust to scientific discoveries can sometimes lag behind the discoveries themselves, and his team will work closely to examine the broader social implications of new genetic discovery and diagnostic tests, including the costs tot the health care system and the uptake on the part of family physicians.