DNA Helix

CWRU receives NIH funding to participate in launch of genomics center on Alzheimer’s disease

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is one of six recipients of a five-year, $10.8 million award from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, to establish the Coordinating Center for Genetics and Genomics of Alzheimer’s disease.

The hope is that discovering genetic risk and prevention factors will enable and accelerate development of preventions and treatments.

The project is a joint venture of researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and five other institutions, including Case Western Reserve. The other four sites are Boston University, Columbia University, the University of Miami, and the Indiana University. It is part of the NIH Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project, a project involving the same six institutions that began in 2012.

The Coordinating Center for Genetics and Genomics of Alzheimer’s disease will include genomic sequence data from thousands of people with Alzheimer’s disease as well as older cognitively normal subjects. Genome sequencing entails mapping out the order of chemical letters in a cell’s DNA. The goal is to identify genes that contribute to or help guard against Alzheimer’s disease. This work is done using highly sophisticated technology and statistical analysis.

Jonathan Haines

“Understanding Alzheimer’s disease requires massive amounts of data,” said Jonathan Haines, chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and director of the Institute for Computational Biology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, where much of the data analysis will occur. “By enabling us to create a common database to which potentially hundreds of researchers will have access, this funding will allow critical sharing of information and interpretation, which is essential for making progress against this insidious disease.”

William S. Bush, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the School of Medicine, is participating in the project as well.

Haines and Bush will use their analytical and biomedical informatics expertise in this project in two ways.  First, they will analyze the possible effects of multiple genes in helping cause or prevent Alzheimer’s. Second, they will provide guidance in connecting and interpreting the Alzheimer’s data with data from over 30 different databases of biological knowledge. This includes looking at correlations between the Alzheimer’s data and genes for:

  1. Other traits and medical conditions; and
  2. More basic biological mechanisms, such as determining if possible Alzheimer’s-related genes are even expressed—active—in the brain.
William S. Bush

“Placing our new statistical findings within the current understanding of Alzheimer’s disease biology is essential to move towards new therapies and preventions,” said Bush.

The Alzheimer’s Association defines Alzheimer’s as “a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.” It affects as many as five million people age 65 and older in the United States.

Current drugs are only minimally effective in reducing the severity and progression of the disease. There are no known ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

The new center comprises a major part of the NIH’s National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

This research is supported by the NIA grant U54 AG052427.