Feinstein Institute Researcher Creates New Genetic Resource

Will aid in the discovery of genes
associated with risk of common diseases

Manhasset, NY – Investigators at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and other institutions have published the first report from a large-scale effort designed to aid in the discovery of genes associated with risk of common diseases. The initial findings from the Ashkenazi Genome Consortium were published in Nature Communications.

The Ashkenazi Jewish population – Jewish individuals of Central and Eastern-European ancestry – is medically important because of its short history (less than 1,000 years) and limited population. As an isolated population, Ashkenazi Jews have a more uniform genetic background compared to other populations, making it easier to detect genetic mutations that increase their risk of common diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer and diabetes.

Todd Lencz, PhD, an investigator at the Feinstein Institute, director of the Laboratory of Analytic Genomics at the Zucker Hillside Hospital, and associate professor of molecular medicine and psychiatry at the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, co-founded the Ashkenazi Genomics Consortium. The consortium is a collaborative effort involving more than a dozen researchers from leading institutions, including Columbia University’s Engineering School, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who use similar strategies to understand the genetic basis of diseases.

In their Nature Communications publication, Dr. Lencz and his Ashkenazi Genomics Consortium colleagues completed full DNA sequencing of 128 Ashkenazi Jews, generating the largest resource to date of genetic variations in the population. The Consortium reports that the resource will be beneficial for medical genetics studies in the Ashkenazi Jewish population and will make personal clinical genomics much more efficient by facilitating the discovery of disease genes.

“Because the human genome has so many moving parts, the task of finding disease genes is an enormous needle-in-a-haystack problem,” said Dr. Lencz. “Searching in a more uniform sample, such as the Ashkenazi Jewish population, will permit more rapid discoveries that have implications for all people, regardless of their background.”

Itsik Pe’er, associate professor of computer science at Columbia Engineering, and co-founder of the Ashkenazi Genomics Consortium, adds, “It’s important to us to make our data available to the entire research community. We’ve released it to public-access databases and fully expect the creativity of the scientific world to come up with additional uses for the data. What’s especially gratifying is the idea that our work will pave the way for personalized genomics in other populations as well.”

The Ashkenazi Genomics Consortium will continue to sequence DNA with the goal of learning about the root causes of disease, and ultimately to apply that knowledge to improve medical practice. For more information about the Consortium, visit www.ashkenazigenome.org.

About The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research

Headquartered in Manhasset, NY, The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research is home to international scientific leaders in many areas including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, psychiatric disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sepsis, human genetics, pulmonary hypertension, leukemia, neuroimmunology, and medicinal chemistry. The Feinstein Institute, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, ranks in the top 6th percentile of all National Institutes of Health grants awarded to research centers. For more information, visit www.FeinsteinInstitute.org.

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