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Largest ever genetics study includes two IOP research projects

APRIL 14, 2008

Four research teams at King's including two teams from the Institute of Psychiatry are to play a leading role in a follow up to last year's Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium the largest ever study of the genetics behind disease.  In a new £30 million project the seven-fold increase in the number of samples to be analysed will allow researchers to look at 25 diseases such as multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and asthma, as well as studying the genetics of learning problems in children and individuals' responses to statins. 

The original Consortium in 2007 was a pioneering project using a new approach called ‘genome-wide association’ (GWA) which rather than picking out a few genes, studied the entire genome (all of our chromosomes) simultaneously. These studies identified a number of new genes and regions of the human genome which increase people’s susceptibility to or protect them from particular diseases.

This new project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, will be one of the most ambitious studies ever undertaken, aiming to analyse DNA samples from 120,000 people, the largest number of individuals ever to be studied.  The project will also bring together leading research groups from 16 institutions in the UK and internationally.

Two different research teams within the Institute of Psychiatry are continuing to investigate different genetics areas under the auspices of this consortium: the genetics of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, affecting about 2% of the population, and research into genes relating to difficulties in reading and mathematics.  

Research into the genes that detemine biological abnormalities found in schizophrenia 
Dr Elvira Bramon, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist in the Department pf Psychological Medicine and Professor Robin Murray, Head of the Division of Psychological Medicine, at the Institute of Psychiatry, are leading an investigation into the genes that determine some of the biological abnormalities found in schizophrenia. They will do this by studying patients with psychosis, their healthy first degree relatives and normal subjects.   Another novel approach is to go beyond comparing participants with and without psychosis and to investigate key biological measures such as their brain scans, their  electroencephalograms and their cognitive skills. By identifying genes involved in these important biological measures researchers hope to understand which people are most at risk of developing psychosis, and also produce more effective and safer treatments.

Scientists and clinicians from London, Edinburgh, Munich as well as networks in Holland and the US are collaborating to put together the largest sample to date including 7,000 individuals who donated their DNA and participated in an extensive battery of tests. What makes this project particularly exciting is that it will use new technology that examines simultaneously hundreds of thousands of markers across the human genome. Similar studies of other diseases such as Crohn’s disease, hypertension, diabetes and coronary heart disease have already found exciting new genetic links and promising new insights into disease mechanisms.

Research into genes commonly associated with difficulties in reading and mathematics
Robert Plomin, Director of the MRC Centre for Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry, at the Institute of Psychiatry is working on research related to difficulties with reading and mathematics which are the most common and most heritable problems in childhood and have considerable impact on later life.  Using 4000 pairs of UK twins from his earlier Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), GWA will be used to identify genes that are in common between reading and maths difficulties.

Professor Plomin explains that: ‘Finding genes that affect both reading and maths will have far-reaching implications for diagnosis and for understanding pathways between genes, brain and behaviour’.rofessor Robert Plomin, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, will investigate reading and maths ability among children aged between 12 and 14, seeking genetic variants that are linked to both improved and impaired learning skills, and to disorders such as dyslexia and dyscalculia.

As well as improving understanding of the biological basis of learning, the findings could potentially allow children to be screened for dyslexia risk, so those who are susceptible can be earmarked for special intervention from a young age.
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