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Precision Medicine

FAPESP-funded research centers establish a shared genetic data platform to support the search for patient-tailored therapies

Comparison of DNA sequences in different individuals

Shaury Nash / FlickrComparison of DNA sequences in different individualsShaury Nash / Flickr

Researchers at five Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) funded by FAPESP have come together in an effort to kick start precision medicine, an approach that integrates both clinical and molecular data on diseases to come up with treatments tailored to the individual patient. The Brazilian Initiative on Precision Medicine (BIPMed) will create a computer platform that brings together genetic data collected by the five centers and other Brazilian groups.

The database will employ the methodology used by the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health and become a part of this consortium, which includes 300 organizations from different countries working together to come up with treatments using genomic medicine. Interest in precision medicine is global. In January 2015, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. will invest $200 million in this field of research.

São Paulo is already home to a multitude of initiatives in this area that have greatly contributed to the field of personalized medicine. USP’s Center for Research on the Human Genome and Stem Cells discovered a mutation in a gene that protects dogs against developing severe cases of muscular dystrophy. The finding has the potential to mitigate symptoms of the disease in human beings (see cover story). A team at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Center for Molecular Oncology at the Hospital Sírio-Libanês is already finalizing the next generation of tests for early detection of cancer. According to team leader Anamaria Camargo, progress in patient-tailored treatments has been greatest in oncology (see story).

Genomic data
“The platform can be consulted by researchers in Brazil or any other country interested in obtaining information on genomic data and phenotypic characteristics identified in patients and/or control populations, whether they are very prevalent or not so prevalent in the population or whether they are associated with a disease or condition, for example,” explains Munir Skaf, a professor at the Chemistry Institute at the University of Campinas (IQ-Unicamp) and coordinator of the Center for Computational Engineering and Sciences (CCES), an RIDC partner. In addition to CCES, tasked with organizing BIPMed’s computer platform, four health-care related RIDCs are participating in the initiative: the Center for Research on Inflammatory Diseases and the Center for Cell-Based Therapy, based at the Ribeirão Preto School of Medicine at the University of São Paulo (FMRP-USP), and the Center for Obesity and Comorbidities Research and the Research Institute for Neuroscience and Neurotechnology, based at the School of Medical Sciences at Unicamp. “We are adding the skills of a bioinformatics specialist, Helder Nakaya, to our group. This will increase the flow of results that can be incorporated into the new project,” says Fernando de Queiroz Cunha, a professor at FMRP-USP and coordinator of the inflammatory diseases RIDC.

Mobilizing the resources of RIDCs, which are involved in areas on the cutting edge of knowledge and receive long-term funding, came about naturally. Several of the centers work with genetic data and are dealing with the challenge of analyzing and interpreting it. “To conduct complex analyses, we need very large volumes of data, and it takes time to generate enough information to show that a given characteristic has something to do with a genetic polymorphism, for example,” says Fernando Cendes, a professor at FCM-Unicamp and coordinator of the Institute of Research on Neuroscience and Neurotechnology. The center is studying the mechanisms related to epilepsy and stroke in the Brazilian population and is working with genetic data and diagnostic imaging. “Database repositories are crucial for this type of analysis, and there are several initiatives outside of Brazil, such as efforts to study cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease,” he says.

Cendes says that the RIDCs will benefit from the initiative, which will develop tools and techniques that themselves represent advances in knowledge. It will be some time before the platform is completed. “This kind of project takes at least four or five years, and that is another reason that the RIDCs, which can be funded for ten years, are the perfect venue to see it through.”