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Broad, Novartis announce diabetes initiative

Novartis and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have announced a joint project to decipher the genetic causes of type 2 diabetes. The team plans to make its findings freely available to scientists worldwide.

Called the Broad-Novartis Diabetes Initiative, this new model for public-private collaboration will place all findings about type 2 diabetes directly onto the Internet. The initiative builds upon the work of researchers at Lund University in Sweden, who have created one of the world's largest and most detailed studies of diabetes and its genetic causes.

The collaboration reflects the mission of the Broad Institute to pull together a community of researchers to tackle complex problems that require multi-disciplinary teams and that are difficult to solve in the traditional laboratory setting, said Broad founding director Eric Lander, a professor in MIT's Department of Biology.

"It is wonderful that Novartis is sharing its vision and expertise in how diabetes alters the body, diabetes therapy and drug discovery, and, as a private company, is willing to work in the public domain," Lander said.

Novartis opened its new global research headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., in part to forge these kind of world-class alliances, according to Mark Fishman, president of Novartis' research division.

Type 2 diabetes is one of the world's most significant and growing public health threats. It affects more than 170 million people worldwide. That number is expected to reach 300 million by 2025.

There is a clear underlying genetic propensity to developing type 2 diabetes. The initiative establishes a research partnership of physicians, geneticists, and others to identify the inherited risk factors for the disease. Identification of these genetic factors will improve scientists' understanding of how genetics contribute to type 2 diabetes and its complications, as well as inform clinical decisions about the disease and perhaps contribute to new medicines tailored to patients.

Broad-Novartis Initiative researchers will study thousands of DNA samples, collected by Professor Leif Groop and colleagues at Lund University. The Lund team will partner in the design and analysis of the research program.

"This collaboration creates a terrific team to tackle type 2 diabetes, which is growing to become one of the most pressing public health problems in the industrialized world," said principal investigator David Altshuler, a professor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and director of Broad's Program in Medical and Population Genetics.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 3, 2004 (download PDF).

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