Center will help researchers around the country seek disease genes

January 13, 1998
Media Contact: Michael Purdy
Phone:(410) 955-8725

A high-speed search for genes that contribute to inherited manic-depressive disorder is under way at a new research center at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

The Center for Inherited Disease Research (CIDR), created last year in a contract between the Hopkins School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a high-tech facility dedicated to helping scientists at NIH, Hopkins and elsewhere get a first fix on regions of the human genetic code containing genes that contribute to complex diseases -- conditions in which more than one gene and environmental factors can combine to cause the disease. CIDR is supported by donations from eight NIH components, with program direction by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

In their first study, now under way, CIDR staff scientists will use DNA gathered from families with a history of bipolar disorder to identify locations of genes related to the disorder. "This will give us data crucial to finding the genes more rapidly and at a lower cost than we could ever hope to achieve ourselves," says bipolar disorder researcher Melvin McInnis, M.D., Hopkins associate professor of psychiatry.

Identifying genes contributing to bipolar disorder should help scientists understand the disorder's origins and develop new tests and better treatments, according to McInnis.

Under the five-year, $21.8 million CIDR contract, scientists can apply for help in population-based genetic studies using blood samples. CIDR will use sophisticated statistical, computational and molecular tools to analyze thousands of bits of information and home in quickly on genetic regions of potential value to establishing causes of complex diseases, which include public health problems as prevalent as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, asthma and heart disease.

"Genetic researchers have amassed a great deal of information about disorders that are caused by changes in a single gene, like Huntington's Disease," says David Valle, M.D., Hopkins professor of pediatrics, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and acting director of CIDR. "However, these are relatively rare, and interest is growing in addressing common diseases in which several genes interact with each other and environmental factors to increase risk."

Because the patterns of cause and effect in complex disorders aren't as clear or standardized as they are in disorders caused by single genes, researchers must study family histories, medical records and DNA samples from large family populations with members who are patients, and apply statistical methods to tentatively identify DNA regions where genes involved in the disorders may reside.

In addition to their work on specific projects, CIDR's staff are working to improve techniques for rapidly analyzing human DNA and to create computer-based statistical models that accelerate the search for disease-linked regions of DNA.

Hopkins currently has 15 full-time staff members at CIDR funded through the contract with NIH; NHGRI has also placed some of its own genetic epidemiology staff at CIDR.

To use CIDR, scientists in academia, NIH and industry may submit proposals to the CIDR review board, which recommends projects to the CIDR governing board. Full details on grant proposals and collaborations with CIDR are available on the Internet at www.nhgri.nih.gov/DIR/CIDR.

CIDR is housed in a 14,000-square-foot-facility on the second floor of the Triad Building on the Bayview campus. Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development Office provided Dome Corporation, owner of the Triad Building, with a $600,000 loan for facility renovations necessary for CIDR.

CIDR's review board, drawn from the national ranks of molecular geneticists, is currently considering other projects. The Center can handle 10 to 15 projects per year.

Bayview houses two additional NIH research facilities, the National Institute on Drug Abuse's Addiction Research Center, and the National Institute on Aging's Gerontology Research Center.

Hopkins also houses several Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers and a world-renowned department of molecular biology and genetics.

-- JHMI --
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