The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT said today it will launch the second phase of the Slim Initiative for Genomic Medicine in the Americas (SIGMA 2), using an additional $74 million pledged to the research institute by the foundation of Mexican billionaire philanthropist Carlos Slim Hélu.

The Carlos Slim Foundation has donated a total $139 million toward SIGMA, created to develop genomic medicine for the benefit of Latin America and the world.

The foundation and the institute said SIGMA 2 will continue earlier discovery efforts, with the goals of developing diagnostic tools for breast cancer and diabetes, completing the genetic analysis of these diseases, creating therapeutic “roadmaps” to guide the development of new treatments, and launching a full-scale effort to target medullary cystic kidney disease type 1 (MCKD1).

SIGMA joins Broad, the Carlos Slim Health Institute, and the National Institute of Genomic Medicine of Mexico. The partnership’s work will be carried out in coordination with scientists from Mexican institutions that include the National Autonomous University and the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition, led by Broad’s Carlos Slim Center for Health Research.

During SIGMA’s first phase, launched in 2010 and funded with an initial $65 million from the foundation, investigators from Broad worked with researchers from across the institute’s partner institutions and with Mexican colleagues to systematically identify genes underlying cancer, diabetes, and kidney disease, including:

  • New genetic drivers of breast cancer, lymphoma, head and neck cancer, and other forms of the disease.
  • The gene for MCKD1, a rare disorder that requires dialysis or kidney transplantation.
  • A common genetic variant predisposing Latin Americans to type 2 diabetes. The variant had been previously overlooked because it is absent in Europeans, according to the foundation.

SIGMA aims to promote wider access to genomic medicine in Mexico and the rest of Latin America by supporting discovery programs focusing on health problems that are particularly relevant to the region, leveraging its unique population genetics, and by building genomic research capacity in Mexico by training scientists and encouraging the development of genomic diagnostics and therapeutics in Latin America.

“Most genomic research has focused on European or European-derived populations. It’s like doing science with one eye closed,” Broad Institute president and director Eric S. Lander, Ph.D., said in a statement. “There are many discoveries that can only be made by studying non-European populations. In addition to the scientific importance of studies in Latin America, it is essential that the benefits of the genomic revolution be accessible to people throughout the Americas and the world.”

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