Researchers will study the DNA of Alzheimer's patients from its database of more than 18,000 voluntarily-donated DNA samples. The Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation (MCRF) created the database as part of its landmark Personalized Medicine Research Project (PMRP).* Marshfield Clinic also has a complete electronic medical record on each of the individuals to be studied.
"We know exactly the medication they have been taking and what diseases they have been diagnosed for. We also know some environmental factors," said Principal Investigator Nader Ghebranious, Ph.D., director of the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory, Marshfield Laboratories. "Now we can do genetic analysis and examine the DNA together with phenotypes and relevant environmental factors."
"It's exciting because we're not looking at just environmental risk factors, or just genetics, but the two together," said Marshfield Clinic Epidemiologist Catherine McCarty, Ph.D., principal investigator of the Personalized Medicine Research Project and co-investigator of the Alzheimer's study. "We are the first that I know of to look at the interaction between genetics and environment on the risk of disease." The study requires 150 people with Alzheimer's disease and about 300 people of similar age who do not have the disease. "Association studies like this require us to match people who have the illness with those who do not," Ghebranious said.
Because the disease is extremely complex, researchers believe that more than one genetic anomaly and perhaps environmental factor leads to Alzheimer's disease. Marshfield Clinic researchers are studying four specific genes and their connection to the disease process.