Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Two of the World’s Top Geneticists are Coming to Miami

10.30.2006

Two of the most acclaimed geneticists in the world, Dr. Margaret Pericak-Vance and Dr. Jeffery Vance of Duke University, are bringing their pioneering research into the genetics of a multitude of diseases to Miami.

The Vances’ Center for Human Genetics at Duke has uncovered critical clues to the origins of diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, age-related macular degeneration, multiple sclerosis, autism and the muscular dystrophies. At the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, they will lead a team of investigators that will make up a new Institute of Human Genomics and a proposed Department of Human Genetics.

“The state of Florida is making substantial strides in recruiting some of the very best scientific institutes and centers to our region,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., senior vice president for medical affairs and dean of the Miller School. “A paradigm for this remarkable opportunity for the citizens of Florida is the recruitment of the Center for Human Genetics, led by Margaret and Jeff Vance.”

Margaret Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., is director of Duke’s Center for Human Genetics, James B. Duke Professor of Medicine, and Chief of the Section of Medical Genetics at Duke University Medical Center. Her groundbreaking use of novel disease gene mapping led in 1993 to the identification of the major susceptibility gene for Alzheimer’s disease ­ apolipoprotein E and very recently to the discovery of a gene that determines risk for developing age-related macular degeneration.

Jeffery Vance, Ph.D., M.D., is the associate director of the Duke Center for Human Genetics, professor of medicine, and director of the Morris K. Udall Parkinson Disease Research Center of Excellence at Duke. His lab has found and studied genes that contribute to diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and one of the most common inherited neurological disorders, Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease.

“Jeff and I love to build things, we love to be creative when we build things, and we like to think outside the box,” Pericak-Vance said. “This is the opportunity to build something truly outstanding and to integrate all of the University of Miami’s strengths into one program.

“Genomic medicine is going to change the way we practice medicine from being reactive to being proactive,” she said. “³We will discover ways to prevent disease, and we will find better treatments that are based on understanding the complex causes underlying the disorders.

“We have the power now to sort this out and to look at the whole picture.”

UM President Donna E. Shalala said the Vances “lead the field of human genetics, particularly as it relates to the common illnesses that all of us are exposed to ­ neurological disorders, heart disease, cancer, vision impairment. In Miami they will lead one of the premier institutes for human genomics in the world.”

The Duke team includes several other investigators who will also be moving to South Florida. “We’re a very integrated group, we¹re multidisciplinary, and we work together on a daily basis,” Jeffery Vance said. “Miami is just a tremendous opportunity to continue to grow, and to begin to translate some of these genes that we’re finding into actual practice. That’s the ultimate goal.”

“The University has two of the best academic leaders in the country: Pascal Goldschmidt and Donna Shalala,” he added. “And there are some terrific researchers in diabetes, spinal cord injury, cancer, eye disease, autism, and many other areas who present real opportunities for collaboration.”

Dean Goldschmidt said the Miami genomics institute “will create a formidable opportunity to apply the new knowledge brought out by the Human Genome Project and translate this knowledge in findings that will help our patients survive some of the most deadly diseases.”

“They will bring this opportunity not only to all of us at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, but also to everyone involved in biomedical research in South Florida, including Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University, the Scripps Research Institute and many other groups.”

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