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LA Biomed Opens Genomics Institute Focused on African-American, Asian, and Hispanic Populations


The Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute has launched a new center for translational genomics and personalized medicine focused on the Hispanic, African-American, and Asian populations of Los Angeles.

The Institute for Translational Genomics and Population Sciences, which will also include a Center for Personalized Medicine and Pharmacogenomics, will be headed by Jerome Rotter, director of research of the Medical Genetics Institute and director of the Division of Medical Genetics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The center will serve the patients of LA Biomed and the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Over the last few years, there's been an "incredible explosion in genomic information," Rotter told Clinical Sequencing News, but "the vast majority of that effort has been in subjects of European descent," he said.

The goal of the new institute will be to to validate known biomarkers for disease risk and drug response and to search for additional biomarkers that may play a role in disease etiology or pharmacogenomics in Hispanic, Asian, and African-American populations. These studies will initially be research-oriented, but Rotter said that the findings would be quickly translated to a clinical setting and be used to make therapeutic decisions, with pharmacogenomic markers tied to patients' electronic medical records.

Decisions are still be made about what technologies the center will be equipped with, but he said it will be a combination of microarrays and sequencing. LA Biomed already has a microarray core facility, and those activities will be moved to the new center, Rotter said, so that "out of the gate" they can start with Illumina genotyping and bring on additional capabilities in the future.

Initial sequencing efforts will be targeted sequencing, he said, to focus on validating known variants related to disease etiology of chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and metabolic diseases, and to identify new, population-specific variants in those diseases.

As one of its first studies, researchers will look at genetic risk factors for diabetes, which has a higher prevalence in Hispanic and African-American populations, compared to European populations. "We've identified many genes involved," Rotter said, "but there's still a dearth of genetic knowledge," particularly around insulin resistance. "Hispanics especially are at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes," he said, so there could be population-specific variants that play a role in the disease.

Researchers will also do targeted sequencing focused on disease etiology of other metabolic diseases like obesity and adiposity, as well as cardiovascular diseases like hypertension and atherosclerosis.

A second initial focus will be to apply pharmacogenomic studies that have been done primarily in Caucasian populations to these other populations. The researchers will be "assessing toxicity of drugs, like statins," he said, which "have been done mostly in Caucasian populations."

"In the past, we've used genome-wide association studies, but going forward we're contemplating targeted sequencing of genes known to be involved with metabolism and various aspects of the metabolism of these drugs," he said.

The center will focus on identifying pharmacogenomic markers related to metabolic and cardiovascular drugs first and then move into the oncology arena, Rotter said.

Eventually, Rotter said, markers of drug resistance, sensitivity, or adverse effects will be linked to patients' electronic medical records.

"We'll be working to develop a system with appropriate testing and in appropriately approved laboratories," so that "the moment we feel that what we're testing has clinical relevance," those tests could be done clinically and variants related to drug response would be tied to patients' records in such a way as to trigger an alert to the ordering physician.