Genetics and neurology experts at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital will study three rare diseases, Rett, Angelman and Prader-Willi syndromes in a special center established with a $6.25 million five-year federal grant announced today.

"The purpose is to promote clinical research into these disorders that are often neglected because they affect a small percentage of the population," said Dr. Arthur Beaudet, chair of Baylor's department of molecular and human genetics, chief of Genetic Service at TCH, and the principal investigator in the study. He anticipates that the focus of the center will expand to other disorders in the coming years.

Baylor is the lead institution and cooperating in the Center are San Diego Children's Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital/Harvard Medical School, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Florida at Gainesville, the University of California--Irvine and the Greenwood Genetics Center in South Carolina.

Beaudet said the center will help develop an understanding of how the diseases affect individuals at all stages of life. They also plan to begin to test treatments that may help reduce the effects of the diseases. One pilot project will involve the analysis of chromosomes using DNA chip technology to search for abnormalities in the person's genetic make-up that are not detected using current methods, he said. The grant is intended to interface with the already funded General Clinical Research Center and Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Center at Baylor and Texas Children's to maximize the productivity of all the components.

The center is one of seven to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health.