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October 13, 2000
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Hopkins Wins $14 Million NIH Grant for Genetic Cardiopulmonary Disease Research

The Johns Hopkins Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine has received a $14 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to identify genes involved in 10 heart and lung diseases, with the goal of enhancing their diagnosis and treatment. The grant will be distributed over the next four years, and the division will have a chance to renew for an additional four-year period.

"At the end of the four years, we should have an impressive understanding of the underlying causes and severity of these diseases, why risks vary, and why some people may be more responsive to specific medications," says Joe G. N. Garcia, M.D., director of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Hopkins.

The Hopkins team will use so-called DNA microarray technology in collaboration with scientists from National Children’s Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to examine tissue samples from 10 different patient populations in order to identify culprit genes. "We will be able to screen 50,000 to 60,000 genes at a time and find out what genes are being activated or repressed in certain disease situations," says Garcia. The researchers will also make use of animal models of six of the conditions to speed their progress along.

Garcia and his colleagues will examine eight lung conditions: asthma, adult cystic fibrosis, lung transplantation, acute respiratory distress syndrome, pulmonary hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, scleroderma (a chronic autoimmune disease of the connective tissue), and sarcoidosis (an inflammatory disease that often starts in the lungs). They will also examine two heart conditions: ischemic cardiomyopathy (heart failure after heart attack) and transplanted heart.

The researchers hope to have useful results for at least two or three of the diseases in six months. "There may be genes common to many of these conditions, or we may wind up at the same final pathway by taking a whole lot of different roads, each road being governed by a distinct set of genes," says Garcia. "We will also undoubtedly identify a number of genes that we never would have suspected to be important in these diseases."

Hopkins is one of 11 grantees from NHLBI’s new Programs for Genomic Applications. "One of the reasons we were able to compete successfully and win this grant is that we have very well-characterized patient populations at Hopkins," says Garcia. "We’ve been following patients with these disorders for a long period of time. We know their pulmonary function, the severity of their disease, symptoms, medication usages, etc. We have some really complex data sets on these patients." All institutions involved will collaborate together and information will be posted on the Internet so that investigators worldwide can benefit from the new knowledge.

Other institutions receiving grants are University of California-Lawrence Berkley Lab, Institute for Genomic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Harvard University Medical School, University of Arizona, Jackson Laboratory, David Gladstone Institutes, Medical College of Wisconsin, and University of Washington.

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