Valley-based Translational Genomics Research Institute signed its first international pact Tuesday, agreeing to conduct joint research with a Mexican institute on genetically based diseases that affect Hispanics.
The agreement was witnessed at the Ministry of Health in Mexico City by Gov. Janet Napolitano and Mexican health officials, including Mexico’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Julio Frenk.
Frenk told Napolitano that Mexico wants to work with her administration to “formalize agreements” on offering health services to Mexican immigrants in Arizona. He did not offer details. The signing culminated four months of meetings between the two genomics groups, which began in April at the Arizona institute’s headquarters in Phoenix, to outline goals and programs for both organizations.
The Translational Genomics Research Institute is a public-private partnership founded last year to “translate” advances in genetic research into better treatments for genetically based diseases such as cancer and diabetes. It is led by Dr. Jeffery Trent, a world-renowned genomics expert.
The institute’s research efforts are being conducted in temporary labs at Papago Park Center in Tempe pending the completion of the group’s permanent headquarters late next year in downtown Phoenix.
The Mexican institute, the Consortium for the Institute of Genomic Medicine in Mexico, is a new organization launched by President Vicente Fox, members of his cabinet and other national leaders to use advances in gene research to improve the health of Mexican citizens.
Napolitano, a member of the Arizona institute’s board of directors, said the program “could improve the lives of millions of people in the United States, Mexico and the rest of the world.”
Trent said the first project will focus on gastric cancer, which has a high incidence rate in Mexico and the Hispanic population in the United States.
Gastric cancer is the second leading cause of malignant tumors in Mexico, he said.
The intent of the program is to focus on the genetic structure and health needs of the Mexican population rather than adapting research based on other populations to help the Mexican people, said Dr. Gerardo Jimenez-Sanchez, director of the Mexican institute.
“The sequencing of the human genome has taught us that subtle genetic variations exist within populations,” he said. “This collaboration will allow us to focus specifically on those nuances to better define the disease process as it pertains to the Mexican population while at the same time add important details to the puzzle that is the disease process as a whole.”
Trent said the Arizona group hopes to reach agreements with other international partners. The project announced Tuesday is the institute’s fourth major collaboration. Others are with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center in Phoenix to determine the underlying causes of autism; with IBM, Arizona State University and the International Genomics Consortium to identify genetic markers for various cancers; and with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and Phoenix to study the genetic basis of diabetes and other diseases.
Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano later met with the Mexican president and said her support for a guest worker program for Mexicans living in the United States has won appreciation.
Trade and economic development issues dominated the 25 minute conversation between the president and Napolitano.
‘‘My impression was that there was a very real appreciation for the fact that myself and other leaders think we need to move to some sort of guest worker program,’’ Napolitano said at an evening news conference.