£2 million for genome-wide association studies
14 April 2008
The UCL Institute of Neurology has been awarded two major grants worth more than £2million from the Wellcome Trust as part of its £30million follow-up to last year's Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium (WTCCC), the largest-ever study of the genetics behind common diseases.
Professor John Collinge, Head of UCL Neurodegenerative Disease, and his team have been awarded £897,000 over 18 months to further their genome-wide study of human prion disease. The department is home to the MRC Prion Unit, set up in 1998 to link basic science to clinical research to further treatment and understanding of prion disease.
Prion diseases or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are a family of progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals. Human prion diseases, such as sporadic and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, continue to pose major public health concerns. The mechanism of disease involves abnormally folded proteins in common with the majority of neurodegenerative conditions, and remarkably, the mis-folded prion protein may be infectious.
Dr Simon Mead, leading the project in Professor Collinge's unit, said: "We know there are strong genetic factors that control prion infection. Identification of these will allow estimation of risks to populations exposed to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, identify new therapeutic targets and provide insights into the fundamental disease processes in the ageing brain."
Professor Sanjay Sisodiya (UCL Clinical and Experimental Epilepsy) has been awarded £1.375 million over three years for 'genome-wide association studies in partial epilepsies'. His group is interested in the genetic basis of disease susceptibility, treatment response and outcomes in epilepsy, and take a mainly population-based approach, with the intent of translating genetic research into clinical practice.
Professor Sisodiya said: "This award represents a great opportunity to understand more about the causes, mechanisms and consequences of those epilepsies that are both the most common and the most difficult to treat. The true potential lies in the chance of identifying new targets against which we can develop new treatments for the benefit of those with epilepsy. Through a unique tripartite partnership between UCL, UCLH and the National Society for Epilepsy, with collaboration from groups in the UK, across Europe and in the United States, and a new openness with industry, there is hope for real progress."
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are key partners in the collaborative group that has made the award possible. GSK has fully committed its own large whole genome study to the effort as well as an additional £250,000 in support. Professor Lon Cardon, GSK's new head of genetics, commented: "GSK is committed to partnership and open science in this important area."
Also, Professor Nicholas Wood (UCL Molecular Neuroscience) will examine DNA variants in Parkinson's disease by working in collaboration with the WTCCC.
The entire Wellcome Trust project will see DNA samples from 120,000 people be analysed, allowing researchers to examine 25 diseases as well as studying the genetics of learning in children and individuals' responses to statins.
This new series of genome-wide association studies will be one of the most ambitious initiatives ever undertaken, bringing together leading research groups from at least 60 institutions internationally, including over 20 from the UK. Over the next two years, working in collaboration with the WTCCC or independently, the research teams are expected to analyse as many as 120 billion pieces of genetic data in the search for the genes underlying diseases such as multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and asthma.
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