Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Women's Health Study

Last week's (Oct. 24th) Wall Street Journal has an informative article entitled "Tying Diseases to DNA in Thousands of Women" (subscription needed). The story is about the collaborative project, between a team of academic, government and industry researchers, who are examining the genetic causes of breast cancer, heart disease and other disorders affecting women. Here is an excerpt from the article:

The novel collaboration, which involves Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the National Institutes of Health and the biotechnology giant Amgen Inc., will analyze DNA collected more than a decade ago from 28,000 participants in the Women's Health Study, combing it for differences between those who have developed serious illness and those who have remained healthy. Researchers believe the results will eventually enable physicians to better predict a woman's risk for disease and to tailor more effective treatments.

....The Women's Health study is one of several federally funded research projects for which participants provided blood samples years ago that now constitute a potentially rich resource to match genetic variations with disease on a large scale, a new approach called a "whole-genome association study."

Because huge amounts of data are involved -- the new initiative will look at 317,000 different variations from each person's DNA -- the cost of scanning the genes significantly exceeds what the NIH and academic institutions can afford. That has prompted academic scientists to seek support from private industry.

....Under the terms of the new project, called the Women's Health Genome Study, results describing associations between genes and diseases will be posted in a public database through the NIH and made available to any scientist interested in conducting further research. "The overwhelming primary aim is to get the vast amount of these data in the public domain as quickly as possible so they can immediately advance patient care," Dr. Ridker says.

Once in the public domain, the genetic associations can't be patented, but scientists could use them as a springboard to research how to develop diagnostic tests and treatments that could be patented. "The purpose of this is to make a contribution to the global knowledge base," says Joseph P. Miletich, Amgen's senior vice president, research and development. "Amgen isn't looking for any rights to anything."