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Snippets: Mar 18, 2009

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Alzheimer's Consortium Making Genetic Association Data Available

The Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative announced this week that it has completed more than 95 percent of its high-density, genome-wide analysis of ADNI participants and will be sharing data from the effort with scientists through a public database for additional analyses.

"This new data set provides a unique opportunity to evaluate the associations between a highly comprehensive dataset based on brain imaging, clinical examinations, and other biomarkers and the entire genome or selected candidate genes," Indiana University Center for Neuroimaging Director Andrew Saykin, who led the genetics research, said in a statement.

"Where most prior research focused on the association between genetic variations and the presence or absence of Alzheimer's disease, the new project and data should facilitate novel gene discovery based on associations with neuroimaging patterns detected in the ADNI data," Saykin added.

Although APOE has been consistently identified as a disease risk gene for late-onset Alzheimer's disease, scientists believe other genes are important for the disease and its progression as well.

In an effort to find additional genes involved in Alzheimer's disease susceptibility, age of onset, expression, and rate of progression, ADNI researchers used an Illumina 610 Quad array to assess more than 620,000 markers in ADNI participants. The work was done by investigators at the Translational Genomics Institute of Phoenix, the National Cell Repository for Alzheimer's Disease, the University of California at Irvine Brain Imaging Center, the Indiana University Center for Neuroimaging, and 59 ADNI sites.

ADNI is a public-private partnership involved in an ongoing, $60 million project aimed at determining whether brain imaging, biological markers, and/or clinical and neuropsychological assessments can measure mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer's disease progression. The research is supported by the National Institutes of Health as well as pharmaceutical industry and not-for-profit organizations that have contributed through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.

The project includes brain imaging studies, using longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging or MRI and positron emission tomography, and biomarker studies of blood, urine, and spinal fluid involving more than 800 individuals. Half of the subjects have mild cognitive impairment, a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.

Data from the project will be available through the ADNI database.

"The release of this genetics data, in combination with the clinical, cognitive, MRI, PET, and blood/cerebrospinal fluid data already in the ADNI database, will now allow investigators to explore genetic factors related to the rate of progression of Alzheimer's disease," ADNI principal investigator Michael Weiner, director of the San Francisco VA Medical Center's Center for the Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases and researcher at University of California at San Francisco, said in a statement.


Merck KGaA Using Oncomethylome Test in Drug Studies

OncoMethylome Sciences said this week that it is collaborating with Merck KGaA to use its MGMT gene promoter methylation technology to select patients for trials for drugs to treat glioblastoma.

The Liege, Belgium-based company said it has begun testing for MGMT gene promoter methylation in a Phase II clinical trial for Merck KGaA's cilengitide and in a phase III clinical trial for newly diagnosed glioblastoma that has been ongoing since 2008.

The Phase III trial is attempting to demonstrate improvements in overall survival in patients with methylated MGMT gene promoter who are being treated with a combination therapy of cilengitide treatment along with temozolomide and radiation, which is the standard glioblastoma therapy.

In the Phase II trial, patients with unmethylated gene promoter are being enrolled and treated with an alternative cilengitide dosing schedule.

Under an earlier agreement, Merck KGaA acquired a non-exclusive, worldwide license to use the results of the MGMT methylation assay for glioblastoma treatment with cilengitide, for which the German company agreed to pay OncoMethylome fees for its testing services.


23andMe-Led Team Offers Program to Enroll Parkinson's Patients

The personal genetics service firm 23andMe, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, and the Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center announced last week that they are enrolling 10,000 people to be part of a new Parkinson's disease community. The effort is aimed at establishing the resources necessary for future genome-wide association studies and other research initiatives.

In an effort to entice individuals with Parkinson's disease to participate, 23andMe is slashing the price of its service from $399 to $25 for a limited time for up to 10,000 individuals with Parkinson's disease who sign up through the Parkinson's Institute or the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who is married to 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki, will ante up an undisclosed amount of cash to subsidize the genotyping costs.

To be eligible, individuals must have physician-diagnosed Parkinson's disease and agree to provide saliva samples and fill out online surveys about their condition. Members of the Parkinson's community will also have access to the complete 23andMe Personal Genome Service. Current 23andMe customers who do not have the disease can participate as healthy controls in the project by voluntarily filling out the company's Parkinson's disease survey.

The latest research project is distinct from a collaboration between the same organizations announced last spring, Rachel Cohen, manager of communications at 23andMe, told PGx Reporter sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News. Cohen said that effort was specifically aimed at developing web-based diagnostic tools for Parkinson's disease, whereas the latest project is aimed at making sure they have individuals with Parkinson's disease on board for research efforts.

The discounted rate will only be available for a few more weeks but there will likely be more enrollment efforts down the road, Cohen added. "This is really wave one of enrollment," she said.

Holly Barkhymer, associate director of communications at the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and Brian Fiske, an associate director and team leader of research programs at the Michael J. Fox Foundation, told GenomeWeb Daily News that the new project is aimed at building a community of individuals with Parkinson's disease for future genetic research studies. The idea is that these individuals agree to participate in research studies as the tools become available, they explained.

According to a news release issued by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the Foundation "has been funding a partnership between 23andMe and the Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center to develop Web-based tools and surveys to gather information from a community of [Parkinson's disease] patients in a scientifically meaningful way."

Although the Foundation provided funding for that project, which remains ongoing, Barkhymer explained, it has a non-funding role in the new project. Instead, it is tapping into its constituency of Parkinson's patients, spreading the word about the research, and distributing discount codes for eligible individuals.

Eventually, those involved hope to bring together the complementary efforts to learn more about genetic variants related to disease onset, treatment response, and more. "We anticipate that we'll be able to do multiple studies," 23andMe's Cohen said.

"We are very excited by the approach," Fiske said, explaining that it is a good way to start collecting large amounts of data. "The projects kind of go hand in hand."

Andrea Anderson, GenomeWeb Daily News reporter

The Scan

More Boosters for US

Following US Food and Drug Administration authorization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed booster doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, the Washington Post writes.

From a Pig

A genetically modified pig kidney was transplanted into a human without triggering an immune response, Reuters reports.

For Privacy's Sake

Wired reports that more US states are passing genetic privacy laws.

Science Paper on How Poaching Drove Evolution in African Elephants

In Science this week: poaching has led to the rapid evolution of tuskless African elephants.