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NIH Funds $24 Million for Genetic Links to Alzheimer’s

DNA Strands (


8 July 2014. National Institutes of Health is awarding $24 million to eight academic medical centers for research on genomic factors behind people developing or avoiding Alzheimer’s disease. Recipients of the four-year grants are Boston University, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Columbia University in New York, University of Miami, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas in Houston, University of Washington in Seattle, and Washington University in St. Louis.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia affecting more than 5 million people in the U.S. that takes a toll as well on patients’ families. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about half a million people in the U.S. die from the disease each year, making it the country’s 6th leading cause of death. Last year, some 15.5 million caregivers provided 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s disease, valued at more than $220 billion.

Researchers at the medical centers will analyze data collected in the Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project, a collaboration between National Institute of Aging and the National Human Genome Research Institute, both part of NIH. The Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project is collecting genomic data from the project’s 580 participants. The analysis will determine the precise order of 3 billion bases in human genes — represented by the letters A, C, G, and T — that make up an individual’s DNA.

The research teams will also analyze the sequence of whole exomes, the parts of DNA that generate the proteins important for human functioning, of 6,000 volunteers with Alzheimer’s disease and another 5,000 individuals without the disorder. They will analyze as well the genomes of 111 large families, some of which are of Caribbean/Hispanic descent, to uncover genetic variations that may cause or protect against the disorder.

Another team is studying people with a specific genetic variation identified as APOE4, considered a high risk factor but who do not develop Alzheimer’s disease, to find other variations that may protect against it. A related project is investigating the opposite scenario, where people with genomic properties considered of low risk for Alzheimer’s disease still develop the disorder.

One other project in the initiative will use computational techniques and bioinformatics to to identify numbers of copies of particular genes or regions in the genome, known as copy number variations, associated with developing or protecting against Alzheimer’s disease. This project will use data from both the Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project and the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) Consortium, and study the influence of copy number variations on memory and biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

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