In early April, President Obama announced the launch of the BRAIN Initiative, committing approximately $100 million to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure and prevent brain disorders. In May, New York will become a hub for a wider field of study–looking at genomic sequencing to find cures to all kinds of disease.
While other cities around the United States were building centers to study genomic sequencing, New York lagged behind. That’s about to change. New York will soon have its own genome center. The state-of-the-art facility is scheduled to open in May, at 101 Avenue of the Americas in Tribeca. The $47 million facility combines scientists from twelve top New York-area medical research centers and universities, including Cornell University/Weill Cornell Medical College, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York Presbyterian Hospital and New York University, all of which are serving as institutional founding members of the center.
MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman spoke to Dr. Robert Darnell, President and Scientific Director of the New York Genome Center, about what they hope to accomplish and about the future of genomic sequencing. By bringing together so many top research centers and scientists, Darnell told Pi Roman that the New York Genome Center would be a “massive intellectual enterprise,” a “Manhattan Project for genomic science,” and that it would bring hundreds of new jobs to New York and spin off new businesses. But Pi Roman probes whether the new center can really do more than others like it.
“I think over time what we’ll come to realize as evolving humans is that knowledge is a good thing. And, for me, in genomics, it’s the same idea. The knowledge we can gain from it offers the possibility that we can cure little children who have disease.” – Dr. Robert Darnell, President and Scientific Director, The New York Genome Center”
Darnell claims it can. He said he’s especially excited to “crack the code” of what’s going wrong in disease after disease. “I think over time what we’ll come to realize as evolving humans is that knowledge is a good thing,” he told Pi Roman. “And, for me, in genomics, it’s the same idea. The knowledge we can gain from it offers the possibility that we can cure little children who have disease– to stop the onset of the cancer cell and predict that one might have a disease like Alzheimer’s and find ways to short-circuit it or extend it twenty years, so you won’t get it until you’re 100 instead of 80.”
“We are at the beginning of a transformation, a true transformation in health care where right now there are amazing reports in the scientific literature,” said Darnell.
As an example, he recalled that a child who had leukemia was about to get chemotherapy. Instead, he was “sequenced” and doctors discovered that the child had mutations for leukemia but also had a mutation for melanoma, never seen in leukemia. “They gave the child all the drugs for leukemia and all the drugs for the melanoma,” he said, “and ‘bingo’–he had a fantastic response. That’s the tip of the iceberg.”