Connecticut Facility Could Lead the Way for Personalized Medicine

Feb 20, 2012

Governor Dannel Malloy recently committed to investing 291 million of the state’s dollars in a new genomic research facility on the Farmington campus at the University of Connecticut. WNPR’s Neena Satija reports on what the center can do for medicine and jobs in the state.

Researchers in Connecticut are imagining a world where doctors can calculate very precisely how likely you are to get a particular disease. They’d use information about your behavioral habits as well as your genetic code – which together some call an “avatar” – to do that. That’s what the new facility to be built by Jackson Laboratories at UConn will focus on. Dr. Marc Lelande, chair of the department of genetics and developmental biology at UConn, was a guest on WNPR’s “Where We Live.”

LELANDE: ‘There’s a very strong predictor of genotype essentially where some individuals will respond to the treatment with this three times better than other patients, so I think as we get more information our predictive power will get much much better.”

The new facility will also concentrate on personalized medicine, or developing treatments for individuals based on their avatar. It could be a powerful tool for targeting disease. But it has also raised concerns about the high cost of such medicines and their narrow applicability. Leonard Fleck is a professor of philosophy and medical ethics at Michigan State University.

FLECK: "In a world now where we have extraordinary problems with allocating health care resources, with health care budgets that are growing very rapidly and making intense demands on the federal budget as well as personal budget, we run into the question of 'what is adjusting care in society supposed to do?'"

Others have pointed out that $291 million sounds like a lot to invest in a facility that will create maybe a thousand jobs in the next twenty years. But Jackson Laboratories President Edison Liu says the new lab will bring a lot more jobs with it.

LIU: “Each individual in these high-tech jobs actually generates many more jobs simply because of the nature of our work.”

Liu imagines that Jackson Laboratories could create a research and technology hub in the state, like the one that currently exists in cities like Boston. For WNPR, I’m Neena Satija.