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Genetics Research to Create Cures, Jobs at A&M

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Saturday may have marked the beginning of the end of many of mankind's ailments with the creation of the Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine. Governor Rick Perry made the announcement at the Texas A&M System's Health Science Center.

"TIGM's ultimate goal is not to study mice, but to cure man," Perry said.

A $50 million grant from the Texas Enterprise Fund is the base for the institute's creation. Of that, $35 million will be used to establish two facilities, one in Houston at the Health Science Center, the other in College Station. The remaining $15 million will go towards building a new facility on the College Station campus.

The grant is the largest issued by Perry from the fund.

"Once it's up and running, TIGM will be the home to the largest library of knockout mouse cells that have been called the gold standard in genetic research," Perry said, "and scientists there will discover the function of genes at a rate unparalleled in the world."

Lexicon Genetics Incorporated is A&M's partner in the project. President Arthur Sands explained how his company studies the genes of mice, 99 percent of which are shared by humans. Using its patented gene knockout technology, Lexicon, in essence, turns off one gene in a mouse, then compares that mouse to one with all genes intact. They are then able to determine what that specific gene exactly does. With the knockout technique, Lexicon can discover the role of 1,000 genes a year, a rate three times faster than all other researchers in the world combined.

Speaking about TIGM, Sands said, "This has the great potential to lead to a more efficient path to drug invention. We can take a gene, learn its function, and use that information to develop drugs. I believe this institute represents an exciting advancement by the state of Texas in life sciences."

Sands also noted that the research being done by Lexicon -- and eventually by TIGM -- will be used to combat the effects of potential acts of bioterrorism against Americans.

While more Texas institutions will likely become a part of the research, System Chancellor Bob McTeer is happy A&M is at the forefront. Both he and Perry, an A&M alum, were happy to note that the institute's acronym is a letter off from "gig'm," and that TIGM will be pronounced appropriately.

"On behalf of the various components of the Texas A&M University System, I'd like to formally thank the governor and his fellow keepers of the Enterprise Fund for this investment and for the vote of confidence it represents," McTeer said.

The impact is not solely scientific. As a result, 5,000 jobs will be created, 2,000 of which are currently estimated to come to College Station, jobs with an average salary of $60,000.

"And that's just the beginning," said Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce President Royce Hickman. "I've heard estimates that exceed that greatly as far as the potential of job creation. When you get in on the forefront of this, and as you start increasing the number of those jobs, they're going to be in the Bryan/College Station area as well."

Congressman Kevin Brady and his staff played a major role in the institute's founding. Brady used to represent the Brazos Valley, and currently represents The Woodlands, where Lexicon is based.

"To think that the rest of the world will have to knock on A&M's door in College Station and here (in Houston) to access that library, it's pretty exciting," Brady said. "It's going to mean more jobs and more science."

Sands said Lexicon went through an extensive search to decide on their partner in the endeavor. In the end, he said, A&M's scientific research facilities and dedication made the university system a logical choice.

Current facilities at A&M's Research Park will house the preliminary stages of the institute. University officials will go to the drawing board starting Monday with designs for a new building that could be in place in 18 to 24 months.