F. Genomics Focus Group
Investigation of the genetic basis of human diseases has been a major focus of effort at the Southwest National Primate Research Center since its inception in 1999. Nonhuman primates are outstanding models for the study of the genetics of disease because they are so similar to humans in their biochemistry, physiology, anatomy and behavior. As researchers in many areas of biomedical research focus greater attention on the genetic basis of disease susceptibility and/or rates of progression, the use of nonhuman primates as animal models for these genetic processes continues to grow. The value of nonhuman primates as models for human genetics and genomics, and as tools for comparative genetic analysis, is now widely recognized. This is one reason why the National Human Genome Research Institute has already approved the complete whole genome DNA sequencing of nine species of nonhuman primates (chimpanzee, rhesus macaque, marmoset, baboon, squirrel monkey, cynomolgus macaque, tarsier, mouse lemur and galago), and is considering others.
The genetic and genomic studies done at the Southwest National Primate Research Center grew out of a longstanding and highly productive commitment to nonhuman primate genetics at our host institution, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. The Department of Genetics, Texas Biomed, currently has 17 faculty members, 11 of whom are actively engaged in studies involving nonhuman primates. Others have participated in primate research in the past. This commitment to primate studies extends back to the origin of the Texas Biomed Department of Genetics in the early 1980s. From the beginning, the faculty in the deparment were committed to what today is called translational research. A number of projects in diverse fields, but especially several projects relating to cardiovascular disease, were designed to collect and analyze similar or identical data in human populations and the SNPRC baboons. More recently, faculty members have engaged in parallel studies of bone biology and risk factors for osteoporosis in both humans and baboons. The primary focus of research in the Texas Biomed Department of Genetics has been the genetic basis of complex human diseases such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, psychiatric disorders and susceptibility to infectious diseases (e.g., Chagas disease, malaria, and other parasitic diseases). The faculty members have long appreciated the value of conducting parallel studies in humans and nonhuman primates, and as a result several faculty members who are not Core Scientists within the SNPRC are nevertheless contributing to currently active programs involving the genetic analysis of nonhuman primate models.