Operating under a $21.8 million NIH contract over the next five years,
CIDR is housed in a 14,000 square-foot facility at the Johns Hopkins
Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. Expected to be fully operational in
the spring of 1997, the Center will employ a staff of about 25.
CIDR represents a partnership among eight components of the National
Institutes of Health, the federal government's largest biomedical
research institution, and Hopkins, which is home to a world-renowned
medical genetics program. The eight NIH participants are: the National
Center for Human Genome Research, which serves as the lead component, the
National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development, the National Institute on Deafness and Communication
Disorders, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute
on Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Mental
Health, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
The interest of so many of the NIH institutes in pursuing the genetic
basis of today's most common and confounding diseases signals a significant transition in
our approach to understanding disease and opens the door to exciting new strategies for
treatments and prevention, says Harold Varmus, M.D., Director of NIH. "Hopkins' commitment to molecular medicine and gene research is reflected in and strengthened by this Center," says William R. Brody,
M.D., Ph.D., President of JHU.
So far, scientists have been quick to apply new gene-finding tools
developed by the Human Genome Project to uncover disease genes. These
tools now make it possible for an investigator looking for a single gene
to isolate it in a matter of months instead of years or even decades.
And indeed, the number of single disease genes identified using these
tools has increased dramatically over the past few years. Understanding
the inheritance of single-gene disorders -- the so-called Mendelian
disorders -- is relatively straightforward because their hereditary
patterns were well established a century ago and are still reliable
But most diseases of modern life -- cancer, heart disease, diabetes,
arthritis, and a host of neuro-psychiatric disorders -- seem to result from
the activities of several genes and the interplay between a human body
and its environment. The direct causes of these disorders have been hard
to elucidate because they appear to be intertwined in complicated ways
that have so far resisted the tools of modern science. Several genes seem
to contribute to such disorders, but the effect of each gene is rather
weak, making it much more difficult to understand why some members of a
family develop chronic disorders while others do not.
New technologies now give us the power to go after the genetic origins
of ordinary diseases that are caused by multiple genes, says Robert
Nussbaum, M.D., who came to NCHGR three years ago with the aim of
developing a center for studying the genetics of complex disorders. As
the CIDR mastermind, he will oversee the contract from the NIH side. David Valle,
M.D., Hopkins professor of pediatrics, serves as acting
director of CIDR while a search is underway to fill the post.
CIDR will specialize in a technique known as genotyping -- sorting through
the entire genetic complement, or genome, of disease-prone family members
to search for not one, but many gene regions associated with that
disease. A person's genotype refers to his or her own arrangement of
the DNA letters, A, T, C, or G, in a particular region of their genome
and may be different from one person to the next. Differences in
genotype may point scientists toward DNA regions that are involved in a
disease. Whole-genome analysis allows researchers to find lots of
possible disease-related changes in a person's DNA.
Though focusing on genotyping, CIDR research will take place across five
Scientists estimate that determining the genotypes at 300-400 locations
in DNA will give them dense enough sampling to identify places likely to
contain disease genes. In studies of large groups, hundreds of thousands
of genotypes must be performed to find all the regions that contain genes
related to a particular disease.
Under full capacity, CIDR researchers expect to analyze the genetics of
six to nine complex disorders per year. CIDR will charge investigators
funded by a participating NIH institute a reduced rate of $1.00 per
genotype; investigators funded by non-participating sources will pay
$3.50 per genotype. To use CIDR, scientists in academic labs, NIH, and
industry will submit research proposals to a panel of scientists. The
scientists will make recommendations to a CIDR governing board made up of
directors of the NIH institutes that fund the Center.