Researchers at the the University of Manchester have made a breakthrough by identifying a new gene linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, using two of the world’s largest scientific data silos to compare the genes in mice and humans.

This marks another step towards determining the type of people who are more susceptible to the disorder.

Brain scans from the ENIGMA Consortium and genetic information from The Mouse Brain Library, were collated to discern a novel gene, MGST3 that regulates the size of the hippocampus in both mouse and human – the factor linked to a group of neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr Reinmar Hager, senior author of the study, noted the significance of the finding, “What is critical about this research is that we have not only been able to identify this specific gene but also the networks it uses to influence a disease like Alzheimer’s. We believe this information will be incredibly useful for future studies looking at treatments and preventative measures.”

Researcher David Ashbrook, who works in Dr Hager’s lab at the Faculty of Life Sciences, explained, “The key advantage of working this way is that it is much easier to identify a genetic variant in mice as they live in such controlled environments. By taking the information from mice and comparing it to human gene information we can identify the same variant much more quickly.”

He further added in the matter of use of Big Data in medical research saying, “We are living in a big data world thanks to the likes of the Human Genome Project and post-genome technologies. A lot of that information is now widely shared so by mining what we already know we can learn so much more, advancing our knowledge of diseases and ultimately improving detection and treatment.”

Headed by Professor Paul Thompson, the ENIGMA Consortium at the University of California, Los Angeles, stores brain images and gene information from nearly 25,000 subjects while the Mouse Brain Library, established by Professor Robert Williams at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, contains data on over 10,000 brains and numerical data from just over 20,000 mice.

Mr. Ashbrook was assisted by his colleagues from the UK and USA and have published the study journal BMC Genomics.

Read more here.

(Image source: NIMH)

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