The funds will support the second phase of SIGMA, a partnership comprising the Broad Institute, the Carlos Slim Health Institute, and the National Institute of Genomic Medicine of Mexico that aims to harness genomic medicine for the benefit of people in Mexico, Latin America, and around the globe. Launched in 2010 with $65 million from the Carlos Slim Foundation, the initiative works to expand access to genomic medicine in Mexico and Latin America by supporting research programs focused on health problems of particular relevance to the region; enhance genomic research capacity in Mexico; and encourage the development of genomic diagnostics and therapeutics in Latin America. During its first phase, the project engaged scientists from a hundred and twenty-five institutions in Mexico and the U.S.
Discoveries made during that initial phase include the identification of a common genetic variant predisposing Latin American populations to type 2 diabetes that previously had been overlooked because it is absent in Europeans. "It had been missed in all the studies of European patients, and yet it turns out to be one of the most powerful genes that is known to affect diabetes," Broad Institute president and director Eric Lander told the Boston Globe. "The abstract idea that studying Mexican populations would lead to discoveries that are being missed turns out to be right."
While building on its initial discoveries, SIGMA 2 will focus resources on translating these discoveries into clinical impact, including the development of diagnostic tools for breast cancer and diabetes, completing the genetic analysis of these diseases, creating therapeutic "roadmaps" to guide the development of new treatments, and launching a full-scale effort to target medullary cystic kidney disease type 1.
"Most genomic research has focused on European or European-derived populations," said Lander. "It's like doing science with one eye closed. There are many discoveries that can only be made by studying non-European populations. In addition to the scientific importance of studies in Latin America, it is essential that the benefits of the genomic revolution be accessible to people throughout the Americas and the world."