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USC, UM, Broad Team on $16M NIMH Project to Create Psychiatric Genomics Resource

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institute of Mental Health has awarded $16 million to support a large-scale, whole-genome sequencing study conducted by the University of Southern California, the University of Michigan, and the Broad Institute examining schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The partners will share the NIMH grant, which funds an effort to create an extensive resource of genomic information based on samples from the Genomic Psychiatry Cohort (GPC) at USC's Keck School of Medicine and to study these data for genetic links to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, USC said yesterday.

The cohort involves more than 37,000 participants who have agreed to provide DNA samples for genomic, epidemiological, and clinical studies.

The partners will sequence genomic DNA from 10,000 or more ethnically diverse people from the GPC, including individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychiatrically normal controls. They will examine these data and conduct association studies with other available sequence data from the Psychiatric GWAS Consortium to identify genetic variants associated with these mental health disorders.

"This study will greatly increase the data available on the human genomic sequence. By design, it will help us study schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but this resource should prove extremely important for understanding the role of the human genome in a broad set of disorders and in normal human functions," USC Chair of the Department of Psychiatry Carlos Pato, the principal investigator of the NIMH award, said in a statement.

Since it launched in 2008 the GPC has enrolled a cohort of 25,000 new patients who have consented to share their de-identified demographic, clinical, diagnostic, and genetic data, and their samples. USC said 88 percent of these GPC participants also have agreed to a re-contact option that allows scientists to follow up with them for future research projects.

"The failures and successes of genetic analyses over the past 15 years have shown that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are highly polygenic illnesses, which means that making meaningful observations about the genetic basis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder will require analyzing the largest possible number of genomes," added USC Professor Michele Pato, who created the GPC with Carlos Pato.

"The important challenge is not only to find variants that affect the function or expression of a gene, but to find the subset of variants that truly matters to psychiatric illness," she added.