Feinstein Investigators Receive Federal GO Grant to Study the Genetics of Schizophrenia

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a “Grand Opportunity” (GO) grant to a team of researchers – led by Todd Lencz, PhD, at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and Ariel Darvasi, PhD, of Hebrew University – to use cutting-edge technologies to help unravel the genetic basis of schizophrenia. More than two million dollars was awarded to the team, which also includes Anil Malhotra, MD, and Peter Gregersen, MD, of the Feinstein Institute and David Goldman, MD, of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, to conduct this research.

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the single largest boost to biomedical research in history

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a “Grand Opportunity” (GO) grant to a team of researchers – led by Todd Lencz, PhD, at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and Ariel Darvasi, PhD, of Hebrew University – to use cutting-edge technologies to help unravel the genetic basis of schizophrenia. More than two million dollars was awarded to the team, which also includes Anil Malhotra, MD, and Peter Gregersen, MD, of the Feinstein Institute and David Goldman, MD, of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, to conduct this research.

As described by the NIH, the GO grant program was designed to support “high impact ideas” that can “accelerate critical breakthroughs” in our understanding of human disease. The program was made possible by an infusion of money to the NIH under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the “economic stimulus package”), representing “the single largest boost to biomedical research in history,” according to President Barack Obama. In announcing the awards, President Obama singled out genetic research as “one of the most exciting areas of research to move forward as a result of this investment.” Eventually, it is hoped that this research may be used to more accurately predict, treat, and prevent serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

It has long been known that schizophrenia – a complex brain disease marked by hallucinations and delusions – tends to run in families and therefore has a genetic component to its cause. However, scientists have struggled to conclusively identify the genes that contribute to risk for this disease. “Current evidence suggests that many genes are likely to be involved in schizophrenia, which theoretically should provide a large target for scientists,” Dr. Lencz said. “Unfortunately, these genes are individually either very rare or very weak in effect, making them very elusive to traditional forms of genetic analysis.”

The newly funded GO grant builds on prior gene-hunting efforts with several distinctive features. Most notably, the sample consists entirely of individuals (patients and controls) of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, recruited in Israel by Dr. Darvasi, who explains “The unique demographic history of the Jewish Ashkenazi population results in a more homogeneous genetic background compared to the general population. This should allow disease-related genetic signals to stand out more clearly in our analyses.” Additionally, this study will utilize the most advanced genetic technologies, which will permit examination of many more pieces of the genetic code than prior generations of research.

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Jamie Talan

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