The Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 30, 1998
Mar. 30 1998
VOL. 27, NO. 28


Gene Hunt Is Under Way At New Inherited Disease Center

Michael Purdy
JHMI Office of
Communications and Public Affairs
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

A high-speed search for genes that contribute to inherited manic-depressive disorder is under way at Bayview Medical Center.

The Center for Inherited Disease Research, created last year in a contract between the School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, is a high-tech facility dedicated to helping scientists get a first fix on regions of the human genetic code containing genes that contribute to complex diseases, defined as 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.

Hopkins currently has 15 full-time staff members at CIDR funded through the contract with NIH.

In their first study, now under way, 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, an 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, McInnis says.

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.

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.