Rutgers scientists mapping DNA links to complex diseases

A Rutgers computer research team is developing a genetic linkage map that may help scientists eventually pinpoint the DNA differences that predispose people toward heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, osteoporosis and other complex diseases.

When completed by the end of this year, the linkage map will be published and made available free of charge to the biomedical community, according to its sponsor, the SNP Consortium. The nonprofit consortium is a collaboration of the pharmaceutical industry, several leading academic centers, a major medical research charity and other firms.

Rutgers' Laboratory of Computational Genetics in the department of genetics will analyze data provided by the consortium to create a map of the interaction among some 2,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs. SNPs are variations in DNA that are shared by many people, says laboratory director and research professor of computational genetics Tara C. Matise.

SNPs provide a shortcut for pinpointing certain genes that may contribute to disease, says Matise, because they are easy to locate and easy to use as markers to track genes that may have an impact on genetic expression. Many SNPs lie within genes associated with a disease, while others are near such genes, she adds.

Through the work of the SNP Consortium and the sequenced map of the human genome produced earlier this year, the locations of these SNPs are known, says Matise. "But we don't have any understanding of how much they interact or recombine. And that's a key factor in tracking dysfunctional genes that may contribute to disease," Matise notes.

Such knowledge is expected to help medical researchers pinpoint the genetic differences that make one person more susceptible to a disease than another, as well as less able to benefit from therapy, the scientist says. "Understanding SNP interactions will lead to greater knowledge of

Contact: Kevin P. Hyland
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

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