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Director General of Mexico's National Institute of Genomic Medicine says genetic studies crucial for health of Mexican and U.S. Hispanics

PHOENIX, Ariz. - June 5, 2009 - Differences in the DNA among Mexico's 65 ethnic populations must be identified to significantly advance that developing nation's public health, a top Mexican official said at the 2009 Scientific Retreat of the Translational Genomic Research Institute (TGen).

Dr. Gerardo Jimenez-Sanchez, M.D., Director General of Mexico's National Institute of Genomic Medicine (INMEGEN), told more than 300 assembled scientists that such information might one day explain why a greater proportion of Mexicans, than those in other countries, got sick and died during the recent worldwide outbreak of swine flu.

Dr. Gerardo Jimenez-Sanchez, Director General of Mexico's National Institute of Genomic Medicine (INMEGEN)

"This is when science can make a life-changing impact," Dr. Jimenez-Sanchez said Thursday, June 4, during the keynote address of the day-long conference at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Discovering the unique genetic biomarkers within Mexico's surprisingly diverse populations could lead to development of more specific, safer and effective drugs to combat such disabling conditions as diabetes, heart disease and cancer - especially as Mexico moves to join the ranks of the world's developed nations, he said.

Currently, many drugs sold in Mexico are manufactured in Europe, and are designed for generic populations, Dr. Jimenez-Sanchez said. "We are believers in personalized medicine. We need to develop our own (scientific) tools and our own products through genomic medicine."

Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen's President and Research Director, joined Dr. Jimenez-Sanchez in predicting that genomic research would not only benefit Mexicans, but also would improve the health of Hispanics living in the U.S.

"If we are not developing drugs specifically for individuals based on their genetic make-up, we might not be giving them the right drugs at the right time in the right dosages," said Dr. Trent, who until TGen's start in 2002 held a similar U.S. post to Dr. Jimenez-Sanchez's position in Mexico. Dr. Trent is the former Scientific Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Genetic research has significant health implications for border states like Arizona, where nearly 1 in 3 residents are Latino, said Dr. Trent, who also joined Dr. Jimenez-Sanchez in emphasizing the essential importance of cooperative studies between U.S. and Mexican researchers.

For example, as part of TGen's first international collaboration agreement signed in 2003, TGen and INMEGEN scientists are searching for mutations associated with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which gradually destroys sharp, central vision, preventing such common and essential tasks as reading and driving.

Dr. Jimenez-Sanchez said a landmark INMEGEN study released in May traced the proportional racial and ethnic differences among Mexicans, including evidence of the migrations of Asians to the Americas during the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago, and the migrations of Europeans - especially from Spain - as well as Africans, beginning more than 500 years ago.

The findings of the Mexican Genome Diversity Project, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), analyzed the genetic composition of 300 Mestizos, or Latin Americans of mostly mixed European and Amerindian populations. Such studies are part of a global search for health-related genes throughout humanity.

"This is not trivial," Dr. Jimenez-Sanchez emphasized in describing the health effects of what are often infinitesimal differences in the human genome, the more than 3-billion base pairs of DNA that make us who we are. "This really is the tip of the iceberg."

Jimenez-Sanchez noted that it was just 10 years ago that scientists worldwide began to identify single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that were useful in discovering the molecular basis of complex disorders and disease.

Already, he said, Mexican scientists are looking at Ancestry Informative Markers, or AIMs, to identify ways of diagnosing thyroid, skin and lung cancers, and are zeroing in on a specific gene that could help in the treatment of cardio-vascular diseases.

Thursday's TGen Scientific Retreat was the institute's first involving more than 40 scientists from the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., which will initiate an "Alliance and Affiliation Agreement" with TGen later this year. This strategic alliance is designed to enable both institutes to maximize their worldwide contributions to science and health.

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About Dr. Gerardo Jimenez-Sanchez
Dr. Gerardo Jimenez-Sanchez, Director General of Mexico's National Institute of Genomic Medicine (INMEGEN), holds an M.D. and Ph.D. in Human Genetics and Molecular Biology from Johns Hopkins University. He is a certified Pediatrician and a member of: the National Academy of Medicine, the American Society of Human Genetics, the American Society of Gene Therapy, the Society for Inherited Metabolic Disease, the European Society of Inborn Errors of Metabolism, and Chairman of the Working Party on Biotechnology at the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). His current research focuses on the study of human disease-causing genes and the development of genomic medicine in Mexico.

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About INMEGEN
The Mexican government founded the National Institute of Genomic Medicine (INMEGEN) to conduct world-class scientific research, implement technological platforms and develop educational programs in genomic medicine. For more information, and to see an interactive version of the Mexican Genome Diversity Project, visit: www.inmegen.gob.mx.

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About TGen
The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a Phoenix, Arizona-based non-profit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. Research at TGen is focused on helping patients with diseases such as cancer, neurological disorders and diabetes. TGen is on the cutting edge of translational research where investigators are able to unravel the genetic components of common and complex diseases. Working with collaborators in the scientific and medical communities, TGen believes it can make a substantial contribution to the efficiency and effectiveness of the translational process. TGen is affiliated with the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information, visit: www.tgen.org.

Press Contact:
Steve Yozwiak
TGen Senior Science Writer
602-343-8704
[email protected]

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