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[MEXICO CITY] After five years of planning by scientists and three years of political wrangling about a controversial proposed law covering cloning and research on human embryos, Mexican president Vicente Fox last week approved the creation of the National Genomic Medicine Institute (INMEGEN).

Unique in Latin America, the INMEGEN will research the genetic basis for some of Mexico's greatest health problems — including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity — and potential therapies targeting these conditions.

"We now join the nations using science and high technology to protect their populations' health," said Fox. "We cannot afford the luxury of not joining this knowledge revolution because the health and wellbeing of future generations is at stake."

In April, both houses of the Mexican parliament approved a law giving the green light to INMEGEN. The new law does not contain any bans on therapeutic cloning or research using human embryos, although legislators of president Fox's conservative National Action Party (PAN) had pushed for these to be included.

However, Gerardo Jimenez Sanchez, director of INMEGEN, says that INMEGEN's research will not include therapeutic cloning, in vitro fertilization or any work with human embryos. Rather, its focus will be on the genetics of the Mexican population and pharmacogenomics — the genetic basis for differences in the effects of pharmaceuticals.

Mexicans have a unique genetic makeup and a characteristic set of disease susceptibilities derived from the mixture of more than 65 indigenous groups with Spaniards, according to an article published by Jimenez in Science last year (see Developing genomic medicine in Mexico).

Jimenez, who also works at the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, told SciDev.Net that US$200 million dollars would be needed over the next five years for the construction of the institute's main building and three high-technology research units in Mexico City.

INMEGEN's first high-technology unit should be ready by the end of 2004, and the main building by 2005. The institute's staff will be selected from a group of 120 Mexican researchers working in the country and overseas.

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