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NIH Alzheimer's Funding Blast Fuels Omics-focused Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Three US research teams have reeled in $4.9 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to use genomics and systems biology approaches to delve into the molecular basis of Alzheimer's disease.

Funding for these projects is part of $45 million in new awards announced by the NIH today as part of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease, a large-scale effort aimed at finding effective tools to combat the disease. Of that total, $40 million is being provided by the Office of the NIH Director, Francis Collins, with additional funding from the National Institute on Aging.

The omics and systems biology projects will receive a total of $4.9 million in fiscal year 2013, which ends in less than two weeks, but each of them could receive significantly more over the five years of their projects.

The funding for 2013 will provide $1.7 million to a team of investigators at Rush University Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, the Broad Institute, and Harvard University, with the potential of up to $7.9 million in total funding; $1.6 million will go to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, with the potential of up to $8.2 million in total funding; and $1.6 million will be provided to the University of Florida, with the potential of up to $7.7 million in total funding.

David Bennett, director of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, and Philip De Jager, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, will use their funding to discover pathways and validate and identify compounds for treating Alzheimer's.

They plan to discover, characterize, and validate molecular networks and candidate genes that influence susceptibility to cognitive decline and Alzheimer's. They plan to analyze clinical, genomic, pathological, and other molecular data collected from the frozen brain tissue of 1,000 volunteers from the Religious Order Study and the Rush Memory and Aging Project.

"The unique data from these specimens provide an excellent substrate for the identification and nomination of molecular targets for drug discovery," De Jager said in a statement from Rush University.

At Mount Sinai, Eric Schadt, director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, will lead an effort to build models of biological networks based on molecular, cellular, and clinical data that will be used to study Alzheimer's and identify therapeutic targets.

The investigators will use cellular and animal models to validate the activities of specific genes, as well as entire molecular networks that may be involved in Alzheimer's. They also will use a computational approach to test if any existing drugs now in use for other conditions could be useful in modulating Alzheimer's networks. If these drugs are useful, they might be repurposed for treating or preventing the disease.

The Mount Sinai team will work with the New York Stem Cell Foundation on the project. They plan to generate stem cell lines from Alzheimer's patients and produce neurons using the NYSCF Global Stem Cell Array, which will be used as a platform for validating drug targets.

"This multi-scale, computational strategy, combined with target validation in mouse brain, in fly brain, and in stem cell models, is already providing clues to unanticipated pathways and new drug discovery opportunities," Sam Gandy, director of Mount Sinai's Center for Cognitive Health, said in a statement.

The University of Florida research team aims to identify and characterize novel therapeutic targets in the innate immune system. They plan to use a systems biology approach to integrate and analyze genomic, gene expression, and pathological data from Alzheimer's patients and mouse models.

The focus of their studies is on the role the immune system, which defends against brain inflammation, may play in Alzheimer's.