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Ruggles Family Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Rudy L. Ruggles, Jr. Make $1.25M Donation to J. Craig Venter Institute for New Study to Identify and Elucidate Healthy Aging Biomarkers

The J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), a not-for-profit genomic research organization, recently announced that the Ruggles Family Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Rudy L. Ruggles, Jr. have made a $1.25 million donation to JCVI to identify and study biomarkers associated with healthy aging. As part of the four year grant, JCVI will collaborate with the Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN), located in Danbury, CT.

The study, conducted by a team of scientists and clinicians from JCVI and WCHN, will focus on two groups of elderly individuals aged 65 to 85 years by correlating genetics with a variety of human genomic, gut microbiome and other “omics” profiles and integrating these data with the individuals’ health record. One group will consist of healthy individuals, and the other will have individuals with a variety of diagnosed health conditions. The team will then compare the microbiome and molecular profiles of the healthy aging group with those of the non-healthy aging group to identify biomarker candidates. The investigators hope that in the future these data can be used to develop cost-effective, clinically relevant tests.

“As traditional modes of funding for science become less and less plentiful, the need for informed and supportive philanthropic donors is more important than ever. We are grateful for the support of Rudy and Sara and the Ruggles Family Foundation as this will enable us to better understand what healthy aging looks like at the genomic level,” said J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., JCVI Founder and CEO.

“The time is right for pursuing the complex question of healthy aging given the rapid advances in analytical technologies and the expanding knowledge of the human genome and microbiome and their interactions. JCVI’s capabilities in this realm are unparalleled, and I am confident that this ground breaking study will expand materially the horizons of this area of fundamental understanding,” said Rudy Ruggles, a physicist and Adjunct Professor at JCVI, who is a healthy 74 years old and a participant in this study. He is also Chairman of the Research Advisory Council of WCHN’s Biomedical Research Institute.

According to a United Nations report, in 1950 there were 205 million people worldwide aged 60 or older. By 2000 there were 606 million aged 60 or older, and they project that by 2050 this figure will reach nearly 2 billion people who are 60 or older. Understanding the elderly patient and figuring out modes of intervention to better prevent and treat disease associated with aging will continue to be an important area of research.

In addition to more comprehensively studied human genetic factors, other areas of human health and biology that influence and define healthy aging in humans are emerging. For example, a healthy microbiome (the full complement of microbes that live on and in the human body) interacts with the human immune system establishing protective activities when necessary. Low-grade chronic inflammation in humans is a risk factor for the development of more serious diseases that reduce life spans. New tools and technologies developed since the first sequencing of the human and other genomes are now allowing researchers to explore the human body in more detail than ever before, including identifying biological signatures (biomarkers) indicative and even predictive of healthy aging.

According to JCVI President Karen Nelson, Ph.D., “JCVI’s extensive knowledge in human genomics, comparative genomics and the human microbiome, coupled with the clinical expertise of WCHN, should result in new insights into healthy aging. We are excited to add this new study to our repertoire of ongoing human microbiome studies as it will enhance our knowledge in this important area of research.”

For more information on how to support the genomics research programs at JCVI, contact Katie Collins, 858-200-1847.

Source: The J. Craig Venter Institute

BIDMC Cardiovascular Institute Researchers Will Lead $4 Million NIH Grant to Study MicroRNAs

A cardiovascular research team from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), led by BIDMC Principal Investigator Saumya Das, MD, PhD, has been awarded a $4 million Common Fund grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of a newly formed program on Extracellular RNA Communication. The five-year grant will focus on identifying microRNA biomarkers in heart disease.

Each year, complications from heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) contribute to more than half a million cases of heart failure and 300,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly stops. Both of these conditions are closely related to a process known as remodeling, in which the structure and function of the heart changes – or remodels — following a heart attack.

“Our goal is to explore the role that microRNAs play in predicting which heart-attack patients will go on to experience complications,” explains Das, an electrophysiologist in BIDMC’s Cardiovascular Institute and co-director of the cardiovascular genetics program within the Outpatient Cardiovascular Clinic.

“Current strategies used to identify the highest risk patients have often been inaccurate,” he adds. “We think that a blood test that makes use of microRNA biomarkers could replace existing strategies and more accurately predict which patients might experience poor outcomes and thereby identify who would most benefit from frequent monitoring and medical care.” Other investigators who are part of the NIH grant, “Plasma miRNA Predictors of Adverse Mechanical and Electrical Remodeling After Myocardial Infarction,” include BIDMC Director of Cardiovascular Research Anthony Rosenzweig, MD, and BWH investigators Raymond Y. Kwong, MD, MPH, and Mark Sabatine, MD, MPH.

microRNAs are one type of extracellular RNA. Once considered nothing more than genomic “junk,” microRNAs have more recently been recognized as playing a key role in cellular functions. Several years ago, scientists began to recognize that these small, noncoding RNAs were not only found inside cells, but could also be found in blood and other tissue fluids.

Using patient plasma samples from extensively characterized patients who have suffered heart attacks, the scientific team will first identify which specific microRNAs are related to poor heart remodeling. They will then use cell culture and animal models of heart disease to further prioritize which microRNAs play a functional role in disease progression. Finally, the investigators will validate these prioritized microRNAs as prognostic markers for poor health outcomes after heart attacks in a large prospective clinical trial.

“Ultimately, we think that miRNA-based tests could replace current tests to predict which patients might be at risk of complications and, therefore, be good candidates to receive an implanted defibrillator,” says Das. “At the same time, we hope to be able to better predict which individuals are at less risk of complications – and thereby spare them unnecessary and costly procedures.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Quest Diagnostics Introduces Comprehensive Opioid Therapy Genetic Test Based on CYP450 Biomarker License with Transgenomic

Quest Diagnostics (NYSE: DGX), the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services, recently announced the availability of a new lab-developed genetic test to aid the delivery of personalized opioid pain-relieving treatment. It is believed to be the first clinical lab to offer testing for variants in all cytochrome P450 (CYP450) genes known to influence the CYP450 enzyme system, which affects metabolism of opioids and other medications.

Quest Diagnostics Introduces Comprehensive Opioid Therapy Genetic Test Based on CYP450 Biomarker License with Transgenomic

Quest Diagnostics (NYSE: DGX), the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services, recently announced the availability of a new lab-developed genetic test to aid the delivery of personalized opioid pain-relieving treatment. It is believed to be the first clinical lab to offer testing for variants in all cytochrome P450 (CYP450) genes known to influence the CYP450 enzyme system, which affects metabolism of opioids and other medications.

Big Data From Alzheimer’s Disease Whole Genome Sequencing Will Be Available to Researchers Due to Novel Global Research Database

The Alzheimer’s Association and the Brin Wojcicki Foundation announced recently that massive amounts of new data have been generated by the first “Big Data” project for Alzheimer’s disease. The data will be made freely available to researchers worldwide to quickly advance Alzheimer’s science.

Discussed recently at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2013 in Boston, the project obtained whole genome sequences on the largest cohort of individuals related to a single disease – more than 800 people enrolled in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI).

The genome sequencing data – estimated to be 200 terabytes – will be housed in and available through the Global Alzheimer’s Association Interactive Network (GAAIN), a planned massive network of Alzheimer’s disease research data made available by the world’s foremost Alzheimer’s researchers from their own laboratories, and which also is being publicly announced today at AAIC 2013. GAAIN is funded by an initial $5 million dollar investment by the Alzheimer’s Association, made possible due to the generous support of donors.

“The Alzheimer’s Association is committed to creating open access to research data, and we believe GAAIN will transform how neuroscience data is shared and accessed by scientists throughout the world,” said Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association vice president of Medical and Scientific Relations. “By fostering a higher level of global data sharing, GAAIN will accelerate investigation and discovery in Alzheimer’s through a system comparable to a search engine like Google or Bing for relevant data.”

“With the addition of more than 800 whole genomes on ADNI subjects that can be linked to the current rich dataset, ADNI data will be even more useful to scientists who are seeking new approaches to treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Robert C. Green, M.D., M.P.H., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who led the ADNI sequencing project. “ADNI is a leader in open data sharing, having provided clinical, imaging and biomarker data to over 4,000 qualified scientists around the world, which has generated over 700 scientific manuscripts.

First, Massive Whole Genome Sequencing Project in Alzheimer’s Disease

Whole genome sequencing determines all six billion letters in an individual’s DNA in one comprehensive analysis. The raw data from the ADNI project is being made available to qualified scientists around the globe to mine for novel targets for risk assessment, new therapies, and much-needed insight into the causes of the fatal brain disease. The new data may enable scientists to better understand how our genes cause and are affected by bodily changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

ADNI enrolls people with Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, and normal cognition who have agreed to be studied in great detail over time. The goal is to identify and understand markers of the disease in body fluids, structural changes in the brain, and measures of memory; the hope is to improve early diagnosis and accelerate the discovery of new treatments. ADNI is led by Principal Investigator Michael W. Weiner, M.D., of the University of California San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center. Dr. Green collaborated on managing the sequencing efforts with Arthur Toga, Ph.D., of UCLA and Andrew J. Saykin, Psy.D., of Indiana University. The actual genome sequencing was performed at Illumina, Inc.

ADNI is a public-private research project led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with private sector support through the Foundation for NIH. Launched in 2004, ADNI’s public-private funding consortium includes pharmaceutical companies, science-related businesses, and nonprofit organizations including the Alzheimer’s Association and the Northern California Institute for Research and Education.

The Global Alzheimer’s Association Interactive Network (GAAIN)

Data-sharing has already greatly benefitted scientific disciplines such as genetics, molecular biology, and the physical sciences. Data-sharing in genetics has led to dramatic advances in understanding the risk factors underlying complex diseases. The Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) is a compelling example of dozens of geographically-dispersed researchers working together to share their data while making it freely available to others for analysis and publication.

“GAAIN is similar in spirit and goals to other ‘big data’ initiatives that seek to greatly improve the tools and techniques needed to access, organize, and make discoveries from huge volumes of digital data,” Carrillo said. “The advent of cloud computing makes it possible to link databases throughout the world and expand their data processing capability significantly to benefit the research community.”

Carrillo will supervise the development of GAAIN in conjunction with co-principal investigators Art Toga, Ph.D., of the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging (LONI) at the University of Southern California and Giovanni Frisoni, M.D., of the National Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and Care and the Instituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico (IRCCS), Fatebenefratelli Hospital, Italy. Enrique Castro-Leon, Ph.D., who will serve as a consultant, is an enterprise and data center architect for strategic partner Intel Digital Enterprise Group.

GAAIN is built on an international database framework already in use by thousands of scientists and local computational facilities in North America and Europe. The network makes research data available free-of-charge for searching, downloading, and processing across a cloud-based, grid-network infrastructure accessible anywhere through Internet access.

The key to GAAIN’s innovation is its federation of data, which is unprecedented for such a system. GAAIN leadership will invite scientists conducting qualified studies to become partners by permitting GAAIN to link directly to their databases. This will enable researchers to add continually to their data sets and keep all data in GAAIN current and dynamic. It also will enable the scientists to retain control over access to their data, which the Association believes will be important to encouraging participation.

“This is unprecedented and of the utmost importance in brain research, where sometimes thousands of examples are required to observe even the smallest change in the brain,” said Giovanni Frisoni, M.D., neurologist and deputy scientific director at the National Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and Care at the IRCCS. He will lead the work of GAAIN in Europe.

“Through GAAIN we envision combining massive amounts of data from multiple sources across many subjects participating in numerous studies,” said Art Toga, Ph.D., professor of neurology at UCLA and director of LONI. “This will provide more statistical power than ever before.”

Source: Alzheimer’s Association