SIGMA is an unprecedented partnership that aims to ensure that Latin Americans benefit from the genomic revolution by:
• Promoting wider access to genomic medicine in Mexico and Latin America by supporting discovery programs that focus on health problems with particular relevance to the region, and leverage its unique population genetics, and
• Enhancing genomic research capacity in Mexico through training of scientists and encouraging the development of genomic diagnostics and therapeutics in Latin America.
The partnership brings together three organizations — the Broad Institute, the Carlos Slim Health Institute, and the National Institute of Genomic Medicine of Mexico — with a shared commitment to transforming human health. The work will be carried out in coordination with scientists from Mexican institutions, like the National Autonomous University and the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition, led by the Carlos Slim Center for Health Research at the Broad Institute.
Carlos Slim Hélu, together with Broad Institute President and Director Eric Lander, announced SIGMA 2 during a special event on Monday at the Broad Institute.
“Most genomic research has focused on European or European-derived populations. It’s like doing science with one eye closed. There are many discoveries that can only be made by studying non-European populations,” said Dr. Lander. “In addition to the scientific importance of studies in Latin America, it is essential that the benefits of the genomic revolution be accessible to people throughout the Americas and the world.”
“I am incredibly grateful to Carlos Slim for his extraordinary commitment to improving public health,” added Dr. Lander.
SIGMA 2 aims to develop new biomedical approaches to some of the most crucial problems in public health, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, and kidney disease. It builds upon an initial effort launched in 2010 with the Carlos Slim Health Institute.
“The Broad Institute is a world leader in genomic medicine and shares our own vision for overcoming some of the greatest challenges and solutions in public health,” said Carlos Slim Hélu. “I am convinced that the discoveries we make together will strongly impact the population in Mexico and worldwide.”
With an initial donation of $65M by the Carlos Slim Foundation, in the first phase of SIGMA Broad scientists worked closely with Mexican colleagues and with researchers from across the Broad’s partner institutions to systematically identify genes underlying cancer, diabetes and kidney disease. The project yielded deep biomedical insights in each of its three core areas. These include:
• In type 2 diabetes, scientists identified a common genetic variant predisposing Latin American populations to the disease. Because this genetic variant is absent in Europeans, it had been previously overlooked.
• In cancer, researchers identified new genetic drivers of breast cancer, lymphoma, head and neck cancer, and other cancers.
• In kidney disease, the Mexico-US team discovered the gene for medullary cystic kidney disease type 1 (MCKD1) — a rare disorder that ultimately requires dialysis or kidney transplantation.
The SIGMA 2 project, while continuing its early discovery efforts, will focus on translating these discoveries into clinical impact, including the development of diagnostic tools for breast cancer and diabetes, completing the genetic analysis of these diseases, creating therapeutic “roadmaps” to guide the development of new treatments, and the launching of a full-scale effort to target MCKD1.
In addition, SIGMA 2 will continue to work on building scientific capacity in the US and Mexico. In the initial phase, the project engaged scientists across 125 institutions in both countries. Going forward, the project will aim to substantially increase its collaborative scope.
“In just a few years, our work together with our colleagues in Mexico has been enormously productive and enriching to the scientific community,” said Dr. Lander. “It’s now time to expand this international partnership so that it truly benefits our children — both in Mexico and in the United States.”