Boston - Researchers from the Biomedical Genetics division of the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) are part of a five-university collaboration receiving a $12.6 million, four-year grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to identify rare genetic variants that may either protect against, or contribute to Alzheimer's disease risk.
At BUSM, the Consortium for Alzheimer's Sequence Analysis (CASA) is led by Lindsay A. Farrer, PhD, Chief of Biomedical Genetics and professor of medicine, neurology, ophthalmology, epidemiology, and biostatistics, who is the principal investigator. Other Boston University investigators include Kathryn Lunetta, PhD, professor of biostatistics; Gyungah Jun, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, ophthalmology and biostatistics; and Richard Sherva, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine.
CASA investigators will analyze whole exome and whole genome sequence data generated during the first phase of the NIH Alzheimer's Disease Sequencing Program, an innovative collaboration that began in 2012 between NIA and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), also part of NIH. They will analyze data from 6,000 volunteers with Alzheimer's disease and 5,000 older individuals who do not have the disease. In addition, they will study genomic data from 111 large families with multiple members who have Alzheimer's disease, mostly of Caucasian and Caribbean Hispanic descent to identify rare genetic variants.
"This is an exciting opportunity to apply new genomic technologies and computational methods to improve our understanding of the biological pathways underlying this disease," said Farrer. "The genes and pathways we identify as integral to the Alzheimer process may become novel therapeutic targets," he added.
Alzheimer's disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, has become an epidemic that currently affects as many as five million people age 65 and older in the United States, with economic costs that are comparable to, if not greater than, caring for those of heart disease or cancer. Available drugs only marginally affect disease severity and progression. While there is no way to prevent this disease, the discovery of genetic risk factors for Alzheimer's is bringing researchers closer to learning how the genes work together and may help identify the most effective interventions.
This effort is critical to accomplishing the genetic research goals outlined in the National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease, first announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May 2012 and updated annually. Developed under the National Alzheimer's Project Act, the plan provides a framework for a coordinated and concentrated effort in research, care, and services for Alzheimer's and related dementias. Its primary research goal is to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer's disease by 2025.
With the current award, CASA joins the NHGRI Large-Scale Sequencing and Analysis Centers program, an NIH-supported consortium that provides large-scale sequence datasets and analysis to the biomedical community. CASA researchers will facilitate the analyses of all Alzheimer's Disease Sequencing Project (ADSP) and additional non-ADSP sequence data to detect protective and risk variants for Alzheimer's disease.
"We are delighted to support the important research being accomplished under this broad-based, collaborative effort. A team effort is vital to advancing a deeper understanding of the genetic variants involved in this complex and devastating disease and to the shared goal of finding targets for effective interventions," said NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD.
"Alzheimer's disease research is appropriately one of our highest priorities," said BUSM Dean Karen Antman, MD "We need more to better understand the genetic and environmental mechanisms that will come in part from CASA to develop more effective treatments or even better, to prevent the disease," she added.
CASA is a collaboration of Boston University School of Medicine and four other American universities. Jonathan Haines, PhD, will lead the project at Case Western Reserve University; Richard Mayeux, MD, at Columbia University; Margaret Pericak-Vance, PhD, at the University of Miami; Gerard D. Schellenberg, PhD, at the University of Pennsylvania; and Lindsay Farrar, PhD, at Boston University.
This research is supported by the NIA grant UF1-AG047133.
Originally established in 1848 as the New England Female Medical College, and incorporated into Boston University in 1873, Boston University School of Medicine today is a leading academic medical center with an enrollment of more than 700 medical students and more than 800 masters and PhD students. Its 1,246 full and part-time faculty members generated more than $335 million in funding in the 2009-2010 academic year for research in amyloidosis, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, infectious disease, pulmonary disease and dermatology among others. The School is affiliated with Boston Medical Center, its principal teaching hospital, the Boston and Bedford Veterans Administration Medical Centers and 16 other regional hospitals as well as the Boston HealthNet.