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MIT, Whitehead, Harvard Join Forces, Create Broad Institute

By Jennifer Krishnan

NEWS EDITOR

MIT and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research will join with Harvard and several of its affiliated hospitals in creating, with the help of a $100 million dollar gift, the Eli and Edythe Broad Institute.

The Broad Institute’s stated mission is “to fulfill genome’s promise for medicine by creating comprehensive tools for genomic medicine, and make it broadly to the world and propel the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, and cure of human diseases,” according to a joint press release.

“This is an extraordinary moment in the history of science, as we begin working to realize the promise of our newly acquired knowledge of the human genome,” said President Charles M. Vest at a press conference to announce the institute.

“It’s a place where people from all over the community [will] come together to do multidisciplinary research in genome and medicine,” said David M. Altshuler ’86, a member of Harvard Medical School’s faculty and a founding faculty member for the Broad Institute.

Eric Lander, current director of the Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research (WICGR) and a professor of biology at MIT, will be the director of the Broad Institute. It will be administered by MIT on behalf of MIT, Harvard, and Whitehead. “It will be a collaboration rather than an independent institute,” Vest told The Tech.

Biology, computation combine

“‘Comprehensive tools for genomic medicine’ refers to the complete set of information, laboratory reagents and analytical methods needed to study human biology and disease processes,” the release said. “This includes the ability to understand and monitor all genes and proteins in cells, tissues, and organisms, and to establish their role in disease; to understand human genetic variation and its association with susceptibility to disease; and to define the wiring diagram of cellular circuitry and its malfunction in disease.”

Biology and medicine have traditionally been “data-poor,” Altshuler said, mean that “collecting data required lots of labor.”

But in the last 50 years, people have begun to “understand how information is encoded in DNA sequences and proteins,” making way for automated data collection schemes, Altshuler said.

Because of this and other advances in biology, “all of a sudden there’s this very data-rich environment,” which is turning biology and medicine into “information sciences” that can take advantage of technology and computation science, he said.

Donation not an endowment

The Broads’ $100 million gift will not be used as an endowment. According to the press release, it will be spent “on seeding research over the next decade.”

“It’s not at all clear that we can predict what will be the great challenges 10 or 20 years from now,” Altshuler said. “We’re mission-oriented,” but that mission might not be around in 25 years, in which case an endowment would not be needed.

In addition to the Broads’ gift, MIT and Harvard have each committed to raise $100 million in non-federal funding, said Alice P. Gast, MIT’s vice president for research.

Collaborators have agreed that the Institute should be housed in Kendall Square, though a specific building has not yet been selected, Altshuler said.

Members of the founding faculty, to be working under Lander, include Altshuler; Stuart L. Schreiber, chair of Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology; and Todd R. Golub, director of cancer genomics at WICGR.