School of Medicine Teams With deCODE Genetics to Study Links Between
Genes and Disease
Alliance With Icelandic Researchers Could Contribute Significant New
Clues to Genetics Research
The Emory University
School of Medicine has formed a strategic alliance with deCODE genetics,
an Icelandic genomics company that is using its uniquely comprehensive
population data to identify the genetic factors underlying common diseases.
DeCODE has created an extensive database that anonymously cross-references
genealogical information about the Icelandic population with genetic
and disease data from volunteer patients and their relatives in more
than 50 disease projects. The approach has enabled deCODE to locate
key genetic factors involved in the predisposition to and development
of more than 20 common diseases.
Emory University physicians
and scientists will use the genetic clues provided by deCODE, along
with deCODE's advanced genotyping capabilities, to advance clinical
and laboratory research within the diverse Emory patient population.
In addition, Emory will collaborate with deCODE on research projects
covering many diseases and contribute extensive clinical and research
expertise to deCODE in a number of medical specialties. Scientists within
the two institutions expect the partnership to be the springboard for
a rapid expansion of discoveries about the links between specific inherited
genes and their role in complex diseases.
DeCODE genetics was founded
in 1996 by Kari Stefansson, M.D., Ph.D., and Jeffrey Gulcher, M.D.,
Ph.D., former Harvard colleagues who recognized the potential of Iceland's
unique genealogical records for conducting population-wide linkage studies
to uncover the genetic factors involved in common diseases. The Icelandic
population of approximately 290,000 individuals is descended from a
relatively small group of settlers who arrived from Norway and the British
Isles beginning in the ninth century, and immigration has been very
limited since that time. The study of genealogy is a national Icelandic
pastime, and family lineages are well characterized and recorded. deCODE
employs nearly 600 people at its headquarters facility in Reykjavik,
as well as 150 people at its drug development and structural biology
units in the U.S.
Using large-scale genotyping,
deCODE scientists are generating genetic fingerprints of each chromosome
of the volunteer participants in its disease gene research, in order
to identify small segments of chromosomes shared by patients with a
particular disease. Genotypes are compared between closely and distantly
related disease sufferers. More detailed genotyping of these small regions
enables the identification of particular genes or sections of genes
linked that play a role in the disease.
Armed with these important
genetic clues from the Icelandic population, the Emory scientists will
conduct their own research studies within Emory's diverse group of patients
to uncover the full range of mutations or versions of these genes that
might predispose individuals to disease.
"The information deCODE provides
is equivalent to telling us how to get to the stadium when we know that
the Superbowl is being played," says Emory neurologist David Rye, M.D.,
Ph.D. "The relationship with Emory will allow the deCODE/Emory alliance
to find the section, row and seat more efficiently."
"The clinical and basic research
expertise and experience within Emory's School of Medicine covers a
wide spectrum of diseases and will contribute a tremendous amount of
information about the role genes play in diseases within U.S. populations,"
said Stephen Warren, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Human Genetics
in Emory University School of Medicine. "Combined with deCODE's significant
genetic discoveries in Iceland, this alliance brings outstanding opportunities
to every medical specialty at Emory to rapidly advance our understanding
of the mechanisms underlying numerous complex diseases."
DeCODE scientists have made
several significant genetic discoveries over the past several years
that should prove useful in Emory research collaborations, including
discovery of the STRK1 gene, the first gene implicated in the common
form of stroke, and a gene linked to schizophrenia. In a study funded
by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Emory neurologists will soon
begin the first study in the U.S. addressing the STRK1 gene. The research
team will examine several hundred Emory stroke patients and characterize
them for stroke risk factors, stroke subtype, and STRK1 gene characteristics.
DeCODE will conduct the genetic analysis of the Emory patient population
and compare these findings to the Icelandic population to determine
the role the STRK1 gene plays in populations outside Iceland.
Emory neurologist Allan Levey,
M.D., Ph.D., director of the Emory Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases,
has been collaborating with deCODE scientists for several years in studies
involving the genetics of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease,
and Dr. Rye has joint studies with deCODE on narcolepsy and restless
"Many neurological diseases
result from a complex mixture of environmental and genetic causes,"
Dr. Levey explains, "and although we have learned about genes that are
responsible for a small percentage of cases of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's,
we know there are many more genes involved. These genes have proven
very difficult to sort out in our heterogeneous U.S. population. Working
with deCODE, we can use the genetic clues from the relatively homogeneous
Icelandic population to determine whether implicated genes confer disease
risk in more complex populations. With more than 30,000 patient visits
to our neurology clinics each year, Emory has a large, diverse, and
well-characterized group of neurology patients, many of whom already
have participated in research studies. "
"Our alliance with deCODE
presents a tremendous opportunity for Emory scientists to participate
in and contribute to some of the most advanced genetic research in the
world," said Thomas J. Lawley, M.D., dean of Emory University School
of Medicine, "and it gives our clinical population a chance to contribute
to and benefit from groundbreaking genetic discoveries about their diseases
that could lead to tailored treatment for individual patients."
Emory's relationship with
deCODE differs from many academic-business relationships, Dr. Warren
explains, in that the company's leaders are themselves physician-scientists.
The alliance is more akin to a scientific collaboration among laboratories
than a true business relationship, he explains.
Dr. Levey explains that the
Emory-deCODE relationship is a paradigm for how industry and academia
can work together, each contributing its unique strengths. DeCODE and
Emory scientists have plans to build on existing collaborations in neurological
diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, stroke, and sleep disorders;
to collaborate on diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, psoriasis, and
autism; and psychiatric diseases such as bipolar disease, anxiety and