By Lee Roop
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology will lead a large new study of bipolar disorder that sequences the genomes of 2,000 people. The $7.8 million study pairs HudsonAlpha with the University of Michigan in looking for genes and genetic pathways that contribute to the risk for the disorder.
Bipolar disorder, marked by extreme cycles of mood from depression to mania, is one of the word’s most common disorders, according to HudsonAlpha President and Director Dr. Rick Myers, the study’s chief scientist. Although not diagnosed in some countries and cultures, scientists believe it affects about 1 percent of the world’s population at any time, meaning potentially hundreds of millions of sufferers.
"We are working exclusively with a disorder known as Bipolar I, the most severe type," Myers said Wednesday. "It is not just a passing (depression). Once this starts, it seems to set in and massively affect people as well as their families and people around them."
To conduct the study, HudsonAlpha researchers will use new technology to sequence the entire genomes of 2,000 people, half of whom have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and half who have not. The samples
have previously been collected. Myers said the analysis will be one of the largest sequencing studies in the world, although he predicted it would be surpassed as soon as next year as more scientists use new research
technology to seek genetic links to other diseases.
"If you had asked me a year ago if we could do this, I would have told you it would probably be five years before we could," Myers said. But the new equipment has greatly lowered the cost and time needed for such
By comparison, Myers said, the Human Genome Project that first sequenced a single person’s DNA ran from 1990 to 2003, involved thousands of scientists and technicians around the world and cost $2.5 billion. The human body has approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in its DNA, and sequencing maps the chain of genetic pairs that define a person’s entire biology.
The study, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, continues until 2014 and will ultimately involve 7,000 subjects. Myers is joined by Dr. Devin Absher and Dr. Shawn Levy of HudsonAlpha, along with Dr. Michael Boehnke, the director of the Center for Statistical Genetics at the University of Michigan, plus other researchers.
The HudsonAlpha Institute is the cornerstone of Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park Biotechnology Campus. Its three-part focus is research, education and biotech business development.