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Duke Genomics Buildings Construction, Planning Approved by Trustees

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- The Duke University Board of Trustees Saturday gave the go-ahead to build a $41 million Center for Human Disease Models building and to start planning for a $35 million Center for Human Genetics building as part of a major new effort to enhance genomics research at the university.

Both buildings are part of the new interdisciplinary Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, a university-wide initiative to meet the scientific, technological and societal challenges of the Genomic Revolution.

"The action by the Board of Trustees indicates the strength of their support to the medical center's commitment to the rapidly emerging field of genomics," said Dr. Ralph Snyderman, chancellor for health affairs.

The trustees, holding their annual fall meeting, authorized the beginning of construction of the Center for Human Disease Models, which aims to make the mouse a much more effective surrogate for human disease.

"This building will help bring about a new way to address human diseases by modeling them in mice and rats using genetic approaches," said interim center director Marc Caron, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and James B. Duke professor of cell biology. "Duke will now have 21st century facilities to support research in this critical area."

According to Caron, the center will allow scientists to utilize gene-engineered mice in a way much like human populations are studied to better understand more complex diseases such as hypertension, heart failure, and behavioral disorders. The four-story, 122,000-square-foot building will include two basic components:

A new mouse facility that incorporates research labs right into the mouse holding rooms, so that scientists can easily test the enormous numbers of mice needed for genetic screening;

A "mouse clinic" where physiologists can develop new ways to measure the mouse as a full-fledged organism, just as physicians examine humans in diagnosing disease. These clinical measurements will range from the physiological, such as blood pressure, to the behavioral, such as hyperactivity. The new building will be sited on Research Drive on West Campus, adjacent to the Vivarium. The building will also house research laboratories of the Department of Psychology Experimental.

Caron emphasized that such new research facilities are critical for advancement of the university's research.

"Even though we were able to attract funding to support our research, we didn't have the facilities in which to properly do the work," said Caron. "Such state-of-the-art facilities will significantly enhance our ability to attract funding for this important research."

The trustees also approved preliminary plans and the site for the building to house the Center for Human Genetics, a medical "detective bureau" that uses family histories, sophisticated molecular analyses and statistical genetics to reveal the genetic origin of a wide array of disorders. The university will return to the board later for final approval and authorization to start construction. According to center director Margaret Pericak-Vance, the 120,000-square-foot building will greatly aid the center's progress from exploring apparent single-gene disorders, such as the muscular dystrophies, to those that are far more subtle, such as Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease. The center has also launched studies of osteoarthritis, asthma, prostate disease, Parkinson's disease and autistic disorders.

The Center for Human Genetics building is planned for a three-acre West Campus site bounded by LaSalle Road, Erwin Road and Research Drive. It will house administrative offices, laboratory space and clinical space for the center.

"The Center for Human Genetics has been successful because of our ability to integrate a multidisciplinary team into a true partnership in solving some of the most complex problems in human disease," said Pericak-Vance. "However, we have been so successful and have expanded so much that we are now under five roofs. The new building will greatly aid our ability to work as a team to unravel these complex and common human disorders."

The new $200-million Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy represents Duke University's comprehensive response to the broad challenges of the Genomic Revolution. The institute involves not only scientists, engineers and physicians who can advance the fundamental base of knowledge of genome science and technology; but also Duke scholars in law, business, economics, public policy, ethics, religion and the environment.

In addition to generating new discoveries, the Genomics Institute seeks to ensure that the ethical and policy issues arising from those discoveries are fully explored and the lessons are applied to benefit society; to help ensure that those discoveries are integrated into the health care system; and that the intellectual property from those discoveries is transferred effectively to the private sector.

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