In September, more than 150 geneticists from 19 countries convened – in Cambridge, MA and on-line – to strategize about speeding research from spotting genes associated with specific common illnesses to figuring out how those genetic triggers work and on to cures.

Dubbed the International Common Disease Alliance, or ICDA, the group is modeled after the Human Genome Project. Like its predecessor, the IDCA aims to create a research “ecosystem” in which each partner’s expertise helps expand the universe of knowledge.

Many common diseases arise from interactions among various genetic variations instead of just one. The ICDA plans to coordinate efforts among bioscientists, computer experts, and drug developers to track down those mechanisms and translate that knowledge into medical treatments.

The ICDA’s goal is not only to speed understanding but also to target scientific, technological, business, communication, and regulatory barriers that might slow progress toward turning genetic knowledge into practical ways to end illnesses.

To do that, the alliance has formed several working groups in areas such as connecting specific genetic variations to changes in the way molecules work; negotiating the sharing of information among institutions; and research ethics.

TRENDPOST: Formed in 1990, the global Human Genome Project cracked the human genetic code in 13 years. Since then, science has charted more than 70,000 portions of the human genome associated with illnesses ranging from heart disease to schizophrenia. If the ICDA is successful, by 2030 we could see the group’s work shaving years off the time it now takes for genetic discoveries to become cures.

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