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Miami's Power Play Lures Talent for New Genome Center

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Seemingly overnight a new human genomics center sprang up in Miami. Officially opening in January, the Miami Institute for Human Genomics at the University of Miami absconded with much of the faculty from Duke University’s Human Genetics Center and handfuls of faculty from other centers around the US.

With money from private investors and the Florida state legislature, this institute, led by Margaret Pericak-Vance, will expand to house about 150 researchers studying common human genetic diseases. Joined by her husband, Jeffery Vance, as well as 12 other principal investigators previously at Duke, Pericak-Vance hopes to create an institute to bring genomics to the Miami community.

“We really saw it as a chance to craft some of the programs that we were interested in starting, both at the research end and the translational end, involving genomics,” Pericak-Vance says.

Miami recruited a “small army of genetic and other investigators,” says Pascal Goldschmidt, dean of the medical school. In addition to the researchers from Duke, they hired more than 60 investigators and staff from the University of Michigan, UCLA, Columbia University, and Johns Hopkins University.

The Miami Institute for Human Genomics will contain a series of centers and programs. The centers, says Pericak-Vance, will house technologies and core laboratories, while the programs will focus on clinical areas such as neurodevelopmental disorders, childhood genetic diseases, neurodegeneration, and mitochondrial disorders.

The institute’s genomics center will be directed by Jeffery Vance, who is also the chair of the human genetics department. He will be overseeing the translational aspect of the genomic research at the institute. “The main thing is just to try to bring genetics to everyday, common disease,” he says.

Research at the institute will concentrate solely on human diseases. “It’s not going to be about yeast genetics. It’s not going to be about fundamental discoveries in DNA biology. It’s going to be strictly the genetic makeup of human disease,” says Goldschmidt.

Goldschmidt says the administration plans to expand the institute over the next 10 years. Part of that means increasing the scope of research to cover the genetics of cancer, infectious disease, and psychiatric illnesses. Also in the expansion plan: the institute aims to offer its broad-based technologies to investigators at Miami, throughout Florida, and, eventually, across the United States. And as the faculty itself expands, the university hopes to accommodate resulting spin-off companies by creating a “Biosciences Park” incubator.

“We are in the business of identifying genes that make us more susceptible for this or that problem. The ultimate goal is to bring it into practice. [The institute] gives us an opportunity to do that,” says Vance.

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