Researchers set to find 'genetic signposts' for eight diseases
One of the biggest projects ever undertaken to identify the genetic variations that may predispose people to or protect them from eight major diseases is to begin after receiving almost £9 million of funding from the Wellcome Trust.
The Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium (WTCCC) is a collaboration of 24 leading human geneticists, who will analyse thousands of DNA samples from patients suffering with different diseases to identify common genetic variations for each condition. It is hoped that by identifying these genetic signposts, researchers will be able to understand which people are most at risk, and also produce more effective treatments.
The WTCCC will search for the genetic signposts for tuberculosis, coronary heart disease, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, bipolar disorder and hypertension. The research will be conducted at a number of institutes throughout the UK, including the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge University and Oxford University.
Researchers will analyse over 19,000 DNA samples - two thousand patients for each disease and three thousand control samples - searching for important genetic differences between people who do and don't have each disease.
"To treat a disease effectively, we need to understand it. If we can identify the common genetic triggers for these diseases, it will give us a foothold in the biological cycle and leave us better situated to fully understand what happens with each of these diseases and who may be more likely to get them."
"This should open the door for us to develop better diagnostic tests and also help in developing more effective treatments."
"A single disease has never been subject to such level of intense genetic analysis. The fact that we're looking at eight underlines the significance of this programme and the progress being made in this field."
Professor Peter Donnelly from the Department of Statistics at Oxford, who chairs the consortium
Although the human genome is made up of more than three billion chemical bases, researchers now know that most of these are identical in everyone. This project will examine 675,000 points where key variations occur.
"The Human Genome Project generated the foundation to catalogue common sequence variation whereas efforts such as HapMap are converting this information to a comprehensive set of genetic markers that allows us to scan the genome for susceptibility to disease. It is exciting and rewarding to see that we now have the necessary tools and collections in hand to investigate the genetics of common diseases."
Dr Panos Deloukas of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
As a second project, the WTCCC will also analyse 15,000 polymorphic markers that alter protein sequence to look for genetic variations relating to another four diseases - breast cancer, autoimmune thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis and ankylosing spondylitis.
"This groundbreaking project is possible because of the sequencing of the human genome. It is an excellent illustration of the importance of knowing the human genome sequence and cataloguing its variations. Hopefully, with the insight gained into these diseases we will be able to make real progress in combating them."
Dr Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust
The projects begin immediately and will take around three years to complete.