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UK Project to Sequence 1,500 Genomes in Search of Genes Involved in ALS

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The UK's Motor Neurone Disease Association said today it will spend £800,000 ($1.4 million) to fund an effort to sequence and analyze the genomes of 1,500 people in search for genetic factors involved in motor neuron disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (MND/ALS).

The UK Whole Genome Sequencing Project will use samples already collected and stored in the UK MND DNA Bank, which also includes detailed clinical information. Having the genomic and clinical information will enable researchers to look for factors linked to slower disease progression, possibly opening an avenue for new treatments, the association said.

The study is part of a larger international initiative called Project MinE that aims to map and analyze DNA profiles of 22,500 subjects, including ALS patients and controls.

According to the MND Association, roughly 60 percent of the genetic causes of a rare, inherited form of MND are already known. However, those only account for five to 10 percent of total cases. Most MND cases are thought to be caused by a mix of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

Although a small number of these genetic variations have been identified, the goal driving the collaboration with Project MinE is to identify more of the predisposing genetic factors that contribute to this disease, the MND Association said.

"When we first set up the DNA Bank we hoped that it would help stimulate greater collaboration, so it is exciting that the results of the UK project will be combined with those from other countries participating in the Project MinE initiative, to advance our collective knowledge about this devastating disease," Brian Dickie, the association's director of research development, said in a statement.

The UK Whole Genome Sequencing Project will be led by the group that runs the UK MND DNA Bank, including Professors Ammar Al-Chalabi and Chris Shaw, of Kings College London, Professor Pamela Shaw, of the University of Sheffield, and Professor Karen Morrison of the University of Birmingham.

The initiative will launch this fall.