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Press Releases

October 24, 2006

Brigham and Women's Hospital Announces Collaboration with Amgen to Study Comprehensively Genetic Causes of Disease in Women

Study Findings Could Constitute a Major Step Toward Personalized Medicine, NIH says 28,000-Participant "Women's Genome Health Study" Heralds a New Model for Academic-Industry Partnerships

Boston, MA - Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) announced today a major collaboration with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Amgen that may identify the genetic variation in American women underlying a range of serious illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast cancer and osteoporosis.

The Women's Genome Health Study will survey genetic differences among 28,000 initially healthy American women who have already been tracked for over a decade for the development of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other common health disorders. Stored genetic samples from each participant will undergo a fully confidential "genome-wide scan" evaluating over 317,000 potential genetic differences.

"The Brigham/NIH/Amgen collaboration is a wonderful example of how partnerships between universities, industry and the federal government can be constructed so as to get genetic information as rapidly as possible in the hands of those that may be able to make a difference in the lives of patients," said Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

These comprehensive genetic data will then be linked to extensive classical risk factor data (including smoking, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels) and the growing outcomes data to identify inherited differences between women that may lead to the development of disease. This understanding is a critical step toward potentially identifying new targets for treatment and for new diagnostic tests for disease risk.

"Findings from the Women's Genome Health Study may provide fundamental insights into the root causes of heart disease and stroke in women," said Dr. Paul Ridker, principal investigator of the Women's Genome Health Study and director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at BWH and Harvard Medical School. "Moreover, by evaluating nearly all of the genetic variation in these 28,000 women, physician-scientists will be able to explore the potential underlying causes of many other common disorders that affect women including cardiovascular disease, bone loss, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, and certain cancers."

"The sheer size and richness of these combined databases are unprecedented in medicine," said Dr. Joseph Miletich, senior vice president of Research and Development at Amgen. "As these women have already been followed for over a decade for various health events, this work may have a significant impact on health care research when the data are made available to scientists worldwide who can use them to rapidly advance our understanding of disease in women."

"This study will constitute a major step toward realizing the promise of personalized medicine," according to Dr. Ridker. For example, one goal of the study is to identify the genetic variations that predispose a patient toward developing heart disease. Using these data, in the future, physicians may be able to identify which of their patients are genetically predisposed to developing heart disease, and tailor their approach to those patients accordingly.

The 28,000 women who enrolled at the start of the study over a decade ago were all in good health. Each of these women has now been tracked for an average of 12 years. To date, 900 women have been diagnosed with breast cancer; 1000 have had a major cardiovascular event; 2500 have been diagnosed with osteoporosis; 1400 have suffered bone fracture; 1200 have developed diabetes, and 4500 have developed hypertension. The genetic profiles of these women will be evaluated against those of similar women in the study who have remained healthy.

"This project is groundbreaking in its scope and its clear clinical focus," said Dr. Gary Gottlieb, president of BWH. "We are proud that our investigators, working with the NIH and with industry partners, will be at the forefront of the genetic revolution, potentially fulfilling the promise of personalized medicine and providing the means to implement patient-specific preventive programs years in advance of symptoms."

The Women's Genome Health Study is a model for government/academic/industry partnerships in that each of the three - NIH, BWH, and Amgen - will provide meaningful participation in the study. Each will contribute funding, scientific expertise and manpower to the study.

In addition, Amgen has entered into an agreement with Illumina, Inc. for Illumina to provide the technology platform to be used by Amgen scientists in evaluating the genetic samples.

Other BWH investigators in the Women's Genome Health Study include Dr. Julie E Buring, senior epidemiologic investigator, Dr. Daniel Chasman, director of Computational Biology, Dr. Robert Zee, director of the Laboratory for Genetic Epidemiology, and Dr. David Kwiatkowski of the Harvard Partners Center for Genetics and Genomics.

Please contact BWH Media Relations for more information at (617) 534-1600 or

Brigham and Women's Hospital is a 747-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare System, an integrated health care delivery network. BWH is committed to excellence in patient care with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery. The BWH medical preeminence dates back to 1832 and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in quality improvement and patient safety initiatives, dedication to educating and training health care professionals, and strength in biomedical research. With $370M in funding and more than 500 research scientists, BWH is an acclaimed leader in clinical, basic and epidemiological investigation - including the landmark Nurses Health Study, Physicians Health Studies, and the Women's Health Initiative. For more information about BWH, please visit: