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USF to Launch New Genomics Lab in Heart Institute

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The University of South Florida plans to open a new genomics lab next week that will pursue cardiovascular disease studies and engage the participation of the region's large elderly population in personalized medicine studies.

The new 7,550 square-foot lab located in the USF Heart Institute will launch initially in the Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, although the long-term plan is that it will be moved to a new building, Stephen Liggett, vice dean for research and vice dean for personalized medicine and genomics at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, told GenomeWeb Daily News yesterday.

The lab and the Heart Institute's personalized medicine program were funded with $8.9 million, including $6.9 million from the state and $2 million from Hillsborough County, a spokesperson for USF said this week.

To help fund the plan to move into a new building, the state legislature has appropriated another $12.5 million for the Heart Institute, although that funding has not been signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott, who can excise any appropriation using the line-item veto.

Liggett said the new lab at first will tackle heart health research, but that it will branch out into other disease studies in the future.

The lab's scientific approach will center on keying in on questions that are common across most personalized medicine programs.

"Do certain genetic variants predispose for certain diseases? Do they modify certain diseases? Or, do they dictate a response to therapy?" Liggett said of the subjects that the lab will seek to address.

One of the lab's first ventures will be to partner with a retirement community called The Villages, which has 90,000 residents, Liggett said.

This population is an ideal group to work with, he explained, because it has "been very proactive in wanting to understand more about the relationship between [its] genomes and [its] health," and because it provides access to patients with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and "all of the diseases you would expect of a community that has ages ranging from 60 to 100."

They are "extremely organized. Everything is in electronic medical records. The healthcare is essentially under one provider. And they have been extremely forthcoming in wanting to proceed down [the personalized medicine research participation] pathway," Liggett told GWDN.

Liggett said the partnership will work with only the residents of The Villages who volunteer to participate, but added that he expects so many will volunteer that the research will bring in most of the community.

Liggett said that at first, the research projects likely will be based on exome sequencing, but that they will expand to include techniques that provide greater coverage. These projects will be centered on studies of genomic variants that are involved in diseases and pharmacogenomic outcome studies.

Another critical part of the research will be to match the genomic data to excellent phenotype data, and to "have the bioinformatics capabilities to pull those two together," he said.

Liggett also told GWDN that his program is developing a collaboration with a large international cardiology practice organization that could provide access to as many as 100,000 samples per year from the major cardiovascular disease categories, including ischemic heart disease, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and hypertension. The details of that project, which also could include commercial partners, are still being worked out and it will be announced to the public at a future date, Liggett said.