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T-Gen: Bringing Arizona to the Leading Edge of Medical Research, Weekly Column

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T-Gen: Bringing Arizona to the Leading Edge of Medical Research

by U.S. Senator Jon Kyl

Last week I joined a number of dignitaries in officially dedicating a research facility that will eventually blossom into an entire campus of learning and healing and help turn Arizona into a worldwide leader in cutting-edge research into the treatment of disease. If that sounds like a big deal, it is. The Translational Genomics Research Institute, known as TGen, is a new landmark in downtown Phoenix and a real milestone in the state's growth and development. The fruit of many years of cooperative labor between the city, state and federal governments, as well as our major state universities and a number of very determined groups and individuals, TGen holds the potential to be a major contributor to Arizona's future. As a Senate sponsor of federal funding for research at TGen, I'm immensely proud to have played a role in investing in this new frontier of medicine.

The $46 million, six-story TGen building, near Van Buren and 5th streets, is owned by the city of Phoenix. More than 200 people, mainly scientists, are already working there under the direction of renowned genetic researcher Dr. Jeffrey M. Trent, who grew up in the Valley and went on to lead the team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that in 2001 completed the map of the human genetic makeup, or genome.

They're already making breakthroughs in the search for cures for cancer, autism, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes, attempting to determine which genetic traits make certain people susceptible to certain diseases and designing treatments to prevent those diseases from developing.

"Our dreams are becoming quite realistic, and the optimism is predicated on places like TGen," said Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH, who was the day's keynote speaker.

TGen might have ended up in Houston or one of several other major cities that were aggressively courting Dr. Trent, had it not been for Phoenix attorney Richard Mallery. Fulfilling a promise to his wife Francie, who died of cancer in 2001, Mallery heard that Trent missed his hometown and rallied government and business leaders to raise nearly $100 million for a genomic research center to lure Trent back to Phoenix. Both the University of Arizona and ASU also made commitments to locate medical campuses nearby.

Dr. Trent's vision for TGen's future is to take the discoveries from its labs directly to patients' bedsides, and help them to live a better life. This "Bench-to-patient bedside perspective" is changing how society looks at illness and the very purpose of medical research.

As big of an undertaking as TGen has been, it's really just a start. Ultimately plans call for a 15-acre Phoenix Biomedical Center with office, research and classroom space to surround it. A research hospital is also on the drawing board.

The benefits reach beyond curing disease and even medicine itself. Dr. Trent testified last year before a Senate subcommittee hearing that I chaired on "Project Zebra," a collaborative research effort by leading scientists and universities - many in Arizona - to create a genetic profile database of infectious agents along with a new diagnostic test that, together, can quickly determine the source of infection in a patient. This tool will help doctors quickly distinguish between bio-terror agents and routine diseases, a process that currently can take more than a day.

Economically, the bioscience industry is one of the most dynamic and fastest growing sectors of American industry. The state Department of Commerce calculates that TGen has already spawned or attracted more than 20 companies and organizations and brought 2,200 jobs to the area. Those are the kinds of jobs we want for Arizona, and are only the beginning of the benefits we're likely to enjoy from the hard work and determination of those who joined together to make TGen a reality.

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