Home to a culturally heterogeneous population, India is also a melting pot of genetic diversity. The population architecture characterized by multiple endogamous groups with specific marriage patterns, including the widely prevalent practice of consanguinity, not only makes the Indian population distinct from rest of the world but also provides a unique advantage and niche to understand genetic diseases. Centuries of genetic isolation of population groups have amplified the founder effects, contributing to high prevalence of recessive alleles, which translates into genetic diseases, including rare genetic diseases in India.Rare genetic diseases are becoming a public health concern in India because a large population size of close to a billion people would essentially translate to a huge disease burden for even the rarest of the rare diseases. Genomics-based approaches have been demonstrated to accelerate the diagnosis of rare genetic diseases and reduce the socio-economic burden. The Genomics for Understanding Rare Diseases: India Alliance Network (GUaRDIAN) stands for providing genomic solutions for rare diseases in India. The consortium aims to establish a unique collaborative framework in health care planning, implementation, and delivery in the specific area of rare genetic diseases. It is a nation-wide collaborative research initiative catering to rare diseases across multiple cohorts, with over 240 clinician/scientist collaborators across 70 major medical/research centers. Within the GUaRDIAN framework, clinicians refer rare disease patients, generate whole genome or exome datasets followed by computational analysis of the data for identifying the causal pathogenic variations. The outcomes of GUaRDIAN are being translated as community services through a suitable platform providing low-cost diagnostic assays in India. In addition to GUaRDIAN, several genomic investigations for diseased and healthy population are being undertaken in the country to solve the rare disease dilemma.In summary, rare diseases contribute to a significant disease burden in India. Genomics-based solutions can enable accelerated diagnosis and management of rare diseases. We discuss how a collaborative research initiative such as GUaRDIAN can provide a nation-wide framework to cater to the rare disease community of India.
Keywords: Diagnostics; GUaRDIAN; Genetic diversity; Genomics; IPSCs; India; Patient support; Rare disease; Zebrafish.