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International Common Disease Alliance aims to accelerate our understanding of common diseases

Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D. November 07, 2019

To productively use a long, blank (and boring) hallway near my office in Building 31 on the NIH campus, NHGRI staff members recently teamed up with colleagues at the National Center for Biotechnology Information to develop a graphical display illustrating the scale of human genome sequence. The wall is now enhanced with a representation of ~1/1000th of the human genome sequence – specifically, about 3 million G’s, A’s, T’s, and C’s stretching nearly 100 linear feet. As mentioned in a recent article in the NIH Record, representing “the complete human genome sequence would [have required] about 15 miles of hallway.” Check out a video tour of this new exhibit.

All the best,

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International Common Disease Alliance aims to accelerate our understanding of common diseases

Diversity sequence


The International Common Disease Alliance (ICDA) was recently established as a forum for international stakeholders across academia, medicine, biopharma, tech companies, and funders to accelerate discovery and translation for the next phase of human genetics and genomics research. The ICDA tagline “Maps to Mechanisms to Medicine” highlights the alliance’s focus on enabling research and activities to move from disease-associated loci, to disease biology, and then to disease treatment. In September, the ICDA held its scientific plenary and launch meeting in the Washington, DC area. The agenda and video from the ICDA’s scientific plenary and launch meeting are now available online.

NHGRI shares many goals with the ICDA. Accelerating progress in common disease genetics discovery and translation is important for several NHGRI-funded programs, most prominently the Centers for Common Disease Genomics. NHGRI strongly agrees with ICDA’s emphasis on achieving greater diversity in genomics research, a theme that has emerged repeatedly during the Institute’s ‘Genomics 2020’ strategic planning process. NHGRI staff members have been involved in early ICDA planning activities, and Dr. Carolyn Hutter, Director of NHGRI’s Division of Genome Sciences, serves on the ICDA organizing committee.

Common disease genomics is also a topic of great interest to other NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs), and the close physical proximity of the September meeting to the NIH campus allowed many IC representatives to participate in the meeting. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins delivered a featured presentation at the meeting, which was followed by a discussion involving a panel of IC Directors that focused on the NIH vision of common disease research. 

With the official launch of the ICDA complete, work now begins in earnest to identify key projects, platforms, and resources needed to accelerate progress in common disease research. An ICDA white paper will be released in 2020 detailing the proposed path forward, and a draft is already available online.

NHGRI will continue to interface with the ICDA and its membership to advance our common goals of understanding and treating common diseases.

Interviews with key figures in genomics showcase rich genomics history

History Timeline


Launched in 2012, the NHGRI History of Genomics Program collects and organizes historic materials related to the field of genomics and NHGRI as an organization. As a significant goal, the program conducts and shares oral history interviews that capture the perspectives and experiences of people involved in major genomics programs and other NHGRI endeavors. This oral history collection includes interviews with both NHGRI staff and leaders from the genomics research community. To date, nearly 60 interviews have been conducted, with 24 of those posted on the NHGRI YouTube channel, Genome TV. NHGRI developed a new promotional reel featuring highlights from the interviews. 

New lesson plans featuring Henrietta Lacks explore the legacy of her immortal cells

Henrietta Lacks and HeLa Cells


The NHGRI Education and Community Involvement Branch worked with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and educators from Washington, Maryland, and Virginia to develop a series of high school lesson plans based on the life of Henrietta Lacks. Lacks' life and her cells created legacies that still touch lives today. Topics in the lesson plans include racism in medicine, cervical cancer, and cancer treatments. Each lesson plan features a foreword by Jeri Lacks-Whye, Lacks’ granddaughter. Released earlier this month, the lesson plans are available on a new webpage dedicated to the life of Lacks and the contributions of HeLa cells to biomedical research that can be found on the Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code website

Julie Segre elected to National Academy of Medicine

Julie Segre


Dr. Julie Segre, chief and senior investigator of NHGRI’s Translational and Functional Genomics Branch and head of the Microbial Genetics Section, was recently elected into the National Academy of Medicine. Julie has been an investigator in NHGRI’s Intramural Research Program since 2000. She earned this honor through her groundbreaking work on the human skin microbiome and the use of genomic tools to advance the tracking and control of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms in the hospital setting.

Charles Rotimi and Sarah Tishkoff receive prestigious ASHG 2019 Curt Stern Award

Charles Rotimi and Sarah TIshkoff


NHGRI extends its congratulations to Drs. Charles Rotimi and Sarah Tishkoff, who were recently awarded the 2019 Curt Stern Award by the American Society of Human Genetics at their annual meeting in Houston. Charles is an NIH Distinguished Investigator and has served as the Director of the NIH Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health since 2008, which is housed at NHGRI. His outstanding work in the field of population genomics spearheaded the community’s efforts to globalize genomics. Both as an advocate and a participating scientist, he has been a driving force behind Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Initiative, which has advanced genomics research across the African continent. Sarah is the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor in Genetics and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania and an NHGRI grantee. Her work focuses on reconstructing the history and genomic evolution of African populations. Through this work, her team continues to illustrate how Africa is key for understanding the genomic, social, and cultural determinants of many human diseases.

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Genome: Unlocking Life's Code October 2019 newsletter


Genome: Unlocking Life's Code

Current: Sept. 12, 2019 – Jan. 2, 2020
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About The Genomics Landscape

A monthly update from the NHGRI Director on activities and accomplishments from the institute and the field of genomics.

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Last updated: November 7, 2019