New international effort to uncover schizophrenia genomics

20 August 2015

A new international partnership has been established to collect DNA from schizophrenia patients for genomic analysis.

The initiative, led by the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) at the University of Helsinki and the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, will begin in Finland with 10,000 patient samples. The eventual aim is to amass as many as 50,000 such samples from across the world.

Schizophrenia, which affects around one in every hundred people, is a serious psychiatric condition that is thought to have significant genetic influences. Previous research has suggested that a large number of different individual genetic variants (as well as multiple environmental factors) may contribute to disease causation, making it harder to identify and make sense of the individual genetic contributions.

However, there is a relative dearth of patient samples for genomic analysis; a study published last year by the Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC) combined data from a total of around 35,000 patient samples, so 50,000 new samples would be a significant gain, and likely to aid  research intended to help decipher the complex biological basis of disease – and perhaps suggest new options for therapeutic intervention.

Finland is said to be an ideal country for the initial data collection, partly because it has an unusually genetically homogenous population without the degree of variation present in many other populations, and also because of the national electronic health registry that should make it possible to identify schizophrenia patient and their medical history.

Stanley Center director Steven Hyman said: “In psychiatric diseases our treatment options are based on decades-old findings. If we aim to change the way these diseases are treated, we need new, solid data about predisposing biological causes. We have carefully selected these international partners to represent optimal ethnic diversity to maximize the success of the genetic approach”.

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