Genome re­search gets a star turn

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS -

An area of med­i­cal re­search that holds some of the great­est prom­ise for the fu­ture is get­ting its own spot in his­tory at the Smith­so­nian.

The Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory is de­vel­op­ing its first ma­jor ex­hibit on the hu­man genome with a $3 mil­lion pledge from a biotech­nol­ogy com­pany.

The phil­an­thropic foun­da­tion of Life Tech­nolo­gies Corp. is the lead spon­sor for a 2,500-square-foot ex­hi­bi­tion slated to open on the Na­tional Mall in Washington in June 2013.

The mu­seum will col­lab­o­rate with the Na­tional Hu­man Genome Re­search In­sti­tute at the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health to de­velop a high- tech pre­sen­ta­tion of the his­tory and fu­ture of genome sci­ences. The Foun­da­tion for the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health also con­trib­uted $500,000.

The ef­fort marks the 10th an­niver­sary of re­searchers pro­duc­ing the first com­plete hu­man genome se­quence as a blue­print of the hu­man body. The Hu­man Genome Project was launched as an in­ter­na­tional ef­fort in 1990 to bet­ter un­der­stand the ge­netic im­pact on health and dis­ease.

The mu­seum also plans to delve into eth­i­cal ques­tions that arise with ad­vance­ments in ge­netic sci­ence. Cu­ra­tors will ask vis­i­tors their thoughts on whether to find out about pre­na­tal health is­sues or risks their chil­dren may face. In some cases, treat­ment can be­gin for a ge­netic de­fect be­fore symp­toms ever de­velop to sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove the lives of those chil­dren.

Ge­netic re­search also is part of the mu­seum’s fu­ture. It re­cently built the world’s largest nat­u­ral his­tory biorepos­i­tory with 24 liq­uid ni­tro­gen tanks and 45 freez­ers to store an­i­mal DNA and tis­sue sam­ples, and it is plan­ning a ge­nomics re­search lab on the Na­tional Mall, said Dr. Jonathan Cod­ding­ton, the mu­seum’s as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor for re­search and col­lec­tions.

“So we’re think­ing about be­com­ing a mu­seum of genomes,” he said. “We’ll still be the old-fash­ioned mu­seum we’ve al­ways been, but we’ll add to that ge­nomics.”

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