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NIH Injects $24M into Alzheimer's Genomics Studies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health will pump up to $24 million into research programs that will analyze genomic data from thousands of Alzheimer's patients in search of variants that may be involved in or affect the disease.

These five research projects launch the second phase of the Alzheimer's Disease Sequencing Project, a core component of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease, the Obama Administration initiative aimed at tackling AD as a major, impending public health crisis. The ADSP is focused on elucidating the genetic basis of the disease, and late last year the NIH started depositing genomic data on AD patients in public databases.

Funded by the National Institute on Aging and supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute, these new projects will delve deeply into genomic and imaging data sets to identify genetic variants that are involved in the disease or that protect against it. The investigators also will compare differences in data across racial and ethnic groups, as well as how brain images and other biomarkers are associated with genomic information

"The ADSP data generated over the last two years are now paving the way for cutting-edge investigations that may lead to new targets for drug development. The upcoming data analyses will be pivotal for realizing that vision," NHGRI Director Eric Green said in a statement.

A little over half of the new NIH grants, $12.6 million, will fund the Consortium for Alzheimer's Sequence Analysis (CASA), a group of five universities that will analyze whole exome and whole genome sequence data from 6,000 volunteers with AD and genomic data from 111 large families that include multiple members with AD.

The CASA partners include investigators at Boston University; Case Western Reserve University; Columbia University; The University of Miami; and The University of Pennsylvania.

"By identifying additional Alzheimer's-related genes, the CASA team aims to find new therapeutic targets that will reduce the economic and human burden caused by this disease," UPenn Professor and CASA leader Gerard Schellenberg said in a statement from the university.

At the University of Washington scientists will receive grants of up to $2.8 million to study ADSP data to identify genomic regions that are likely to contain rare high-risk or protective AD variants, including variants that are common to specific ethnic groups.

Investigators at Washington University in St. Louis will receive grants totaling up to $1.7 million to identify variants that protect against AD in people who carry the APOE4 allele. The study also will aim to find out whether certain gene variants protect all who carry them, or only those who have certain genetic risk factors, and will look at whether these factors reduce risk in both Europeans and African Americans.

Boston University researchers will receive up to $3 million to detect variants associated with AD risk or protect against AD. They will study data from 5,000 people who developed the disease despite being at relatively low risk, due to age or APOE genotype, and from 5,000 cognitively normal adults. The data on these 10,000 participants will come from the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) Consortium.

Scientists at The University of Texas Health Sciences Center will use funding totaling up to $3.8 million to identify novel copy number variants linked to increased risk for, or protection from, AD. They plan to use bioinformatics and computational tools to study data from the ADSP and CHARGE consortium to examine the function of genes disrupted or overlapped by certain CNVs, and how they impact disease risk in multiple ethnic and racial groups.

All of the project partners will collaborate with the NHGRI Large-Scale Sequencing and Analysis Centers program, a consortium that generates and analyzes large genomic datasets.

"Working closely with our NHGRI colleagues to build, store, and make freely accessible to researchers the ADSP datasets, we have opened up new avenues for research," said NIA Director Richard Hodes. "Building on that Cache of Data, we have moved quickly to this next stage of analyzing the data in new and innovative ways."