Huntsville, Ala.—HudsonAlpha researchers are collaborating with the University of Michigan School of Public Health and Medical School to undertake the largest whole genome sequencing study funded to date, as they seek to better understand bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

HudsonAlpha, the University of Michigan, the University of Southern California and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT will work together to deeply sequence the genomes of 10,000 people of European, Hispanic and African-American origin. They received three separate four-year awards totaling $16 million from the National Institute of Mental Health.

The University of Michigan led team includes HudsonAlpha President Rick Myers and Shawn Levy, director of the HudsonAlpha Genomic Services Lab.

“We hope to gain a better understanding of these diseases that directly affect 1 percent of the population but impact countless friends and relatives,” said Principal Investigator Michael Boehnke, the Richard G. Cornell Distinguished University Professor of Biostatistics and director of the Center for Statistical Genetics in the Department of Biostatistics at SPH.

“From what we learn, we hope we can identify better targets for drug development or better targets for the drugs we now have. We also could imagine improving our ability to predict who might get these diseases.”

Read the complete release here.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes mood shifts, and dramatic ups and downs in energy and activity level. Those with it often struggle with daily activities.

Schizophrenia also is a brain disorder that may cause those afflicted to hear voices and have irrational fears that people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts or plotting against them.

These disorders are among the leading causes of disability worldwide due to their early onset and chronic course. There is clinical and genetic evidence of overlap of these illnesses, the researchers say, emphasizing the importance of a combined genetic analysis.

Symptoms of these disorders impact personal, social and vocational capabilities due to ongoing and fluctuating symptoms. Suicide occurs in 10-20 percent of cases. While many treatments are available they are not effective in a significant number of individuals.

Detailed knowledge of genetic structure will provide the basis for novel interventions, the researchers say.

Both conditions run in families and are thought to result from interactions between biological and environmental factors. Previous research has established the importance of genetics, and researchers say this approach will examine details of genetic sequences in an unprecedented number of individuals.

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