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UCSD-led Glaucoma Genes Study Lands $6.4M

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) –Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have won $6.4 million in funding from the National Eye Institute to investigate the genetic basis of glaucoma, with a particular focus on how the disease arises in people of African descent.

The project, called the African Descent and Glaucoma Study (ADAGES III), seeks to determine how genotype contributes to glaucoma in African-Americans, considered a high-risk group. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African-Americans; they are four to five times more likely to get the disease than other group, and are up to 15 times more likely to suffer meaningful visual impairment due to the disease than people of European descent.

The UCSD investigators plan to work with partners at several clinical centers, which will serve as recruiting and phenotyping sites, to "identify glaucoma genes in this high-risk, minority population, particularly persons who have rapidly worsening vision," lead investigator and UCSD School of Medicine Professor Robert Weinreb said in a statement.

He and his partners, including Harbor-UCLA Medical Center Professor Jerry Rotter, plan to identify genes that are relevant to glaucoma, develop predictive models for glaucoma diagnosis and progression, and discover new drug targets to lessen the impact of the disease.

In addition to genetics studies of primary open angle glaucoma (POAG), the partners also plan to gather detailed phenotypes from more than 2,000 subjects and create a repository and data coordinating center at UCSD.

"The lack of understanding about the cause of this disease impedes our ability to identify and treat it early in its development," said Weinreb, who also is director of the Shiley Eye Center, part of the UCSD Health System.

"Evidence of genetic contribution in the pathogenesis of POAG is well established. Since POAG tends to run in families, it is critical to identify the genetic basis of the disease in order to develop effective therapies for early intervention," he added.

Along with UCSD and UCLA, phenotyping for the study also will take place at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and at a private practice in Atlanta.