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UCSD to Lead $10M Schizophrenia Studies

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Scientists at The University of California San Diego will use a new $10 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to continue to lead a multi-center effort to understand the genetic architecture of schizophrenia, UCSD said today.

The four-year renewal funding will go to the UCSD-led Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia (COGS), which started in 2003 with the goal of learning about the specific heritable problems associated with schizophrenia in families and the related genetic abnormalities that have been related to them.

The entire COGS project will span a total of 12 years and will include researcher teams at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Stanford University, UC Los Angeles, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington.

"Instead of directly exploring the genetics of the diagnostic entity of schizophrenia, we are identifying the genetics of brain-based deficits that occur in schizophrenia patients and their family members," said David Braff, who is principal investigator on the project and is a professor of psychiatry and director of the Schizophrenia Program at UCSD's school of medicine.

These deficits include specific neurophysiological and neurocognitive traits called endophenotypes and related genetic abnormalities in schizophrenia patients and their family members.

"By exploring these endophenotypes and understanding their genomic causes and resulting brain abnormalities, COGS has great potential to contribute to the development of new genetically informed targets for medication and psychosocial treatment, more effectively treating and even preventing the onset of schizophrenia," Braff added.

In its first phase, COGS recruited families to participate in the program, it set up a database, and it tested hundreds of subjects. During Phase II, COGS will use these resources to expand research and data analysis, identify new genetic findings, and publish results for use by the scientific community.

The measures of brain functioning that the project focuses on include memory, concentration, brain waves, eye blink responses, and eye movements. The researchers aim to trace these traits in families and then find genes that correspond to these traits. The COGS researchers hope that genes that are related to endophenotypes in schizophrenia may be used to develop better treatments and cures for the disease and its symptoms.