New Study Looks at Progress and Potential for Genomic Medicine in Developing Nations

A special supplement to Nature Reviews Genetics, published online today, details how four countries with emerging economies — Mexico, India, Thailand and South Africa — are taking steps to build capacity for studies of human genomic variation and its applications to healthcare. Following completion of the HapMap Project, several consortiums in the developed world have undertaken large-scale genotyping projects. The hope is that these efforts will lead to advances in personalized diagnostics and therapeutics that could one day improve health outcomes. The authors of the six-part series, all from the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health (MRC) in Toronto, conclude that similar initiatives in genomic medicine have great potential to help developing countries by strengthening local research infrastructure and local intellectual property regimes, addressing local health needs and reducing health-care costs. (The reports are available free of charge from Nature Genetics with registration) The highlighted initiatives:
  • Mexico Mexico has formed the National Institute of Genomic Medicine (INMEGEN), the first Mexican institute to systematically describe the genomic diversity of the Mexican population. INMEGEN will allow Mexico to focus on the link between genomic variation in the Mexican population, disease susceptibility and drug-response variability.
  • India The Indian Genome Variation (IGV) database is a collaborative network that will capture essential data about disease predisposition, adverse drug reactions (ADRs) and population migration within India.
  • Thailand The Thai SNP Discovery Project and the Thai Centre for Excellence in Life Sciences Pharmacogenomics Project will help Thailand understand the genomic diversity of its population and explore the role that this diversity has in drug response and disease susceptibility.
  • South Africa The South African government is in the early stages of planning a national genomic medicine research program. Public engagement in genomic issues is spear-headed by The Africa Genome Education Institute.
“The world has reached an historic moment on the path to genomic medicine — the point where theory is about to be translated into practice,” said the project’s principal investigator, Professor Abdallah Daar, in a statement. “Benefits of this emerging science cannot be an exclusive luxury reserved for wealthier industrialized countries. Instead it must be universally advanced by developed and developing countries alike to prevent an increased widening of already huge difference in global health care quality,” said project leader Dr. Béatrice Séguin.
  • Jeff Monaghan

    This is really exciting and at the same time a little scary. While these governments move forward with these programs has there been any discussion on security, privacy and even the possibility of discrimination based on someone’s genetic make-up?

    There seems to be somewhat of a Catch-22 to these programs. The studies cannot be done without the gathering and indexing of a large number of individual’s genetic information. But with the gathering of that information, how does one insure it will not be used in any sort of insidious way, especially when we’re are talking about the governments of developing countries.

    Would love to hear your thoughts.


  • Hi Jeff,

    I totally agree with your sentiments — the promise of genomics can’t be allowed to overshadow the need to conduct research ethically, no matter where that research is conducted.

    I encourage you to read the reports about each country to get a full picture of the programs they are pursuing. I would say, however, that it appears that all four countries profiled in this series of papers — Mexico, India, Thailand, and South Africa — are taking steps to make sure that those who are involved in this research are treated ethically and respectfully.

    The reports about India and Thailand described both countries’ efforts at establishing ethical guidelines and educating the public about the goals, benefits and risks of this research. South Africa’s programs are just getting off the ground, but it seems that they are definitely including considerations of the ethical, legal, and social implications of genomics research on their population.

    I’m particularly impressed with Mexico’s attention to these issues. INMEGEN has split its genotyping efforts into two phases. The first phase collected data from members of the Mestizo population who had given consent. The second phase (which is in its early stages) will focus on indigenous populations, paying special attention to making sure these people are fully informed and educated about the research they are being asked to take part in.