Could a computational approach help search for biological markers for different brain diseases?
Claudia Manzoni, Ph.D.
University of Reading
Reading, United Kingdom
Scientists are trying to understand the commonalities across the several brain diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), to develop more effective diagnostic tools and intervention strategies. DNA is composed of a large number of genes, written in a special code. Each gene contains discrete information and provides instructions to make proteins. Genetic changes may alter a gene’s normal instructions, which could contribute to brain diseases. However, for a majority of individuals a single genetic change may not be the cause of a brain disorder. Instead, a certain combination of multiple small changes called “SNPs” (what could be considered a barcode) distributed across many genes in the DNA could trigger disease-related brain changes.
Dr. Claudia Manzoni and her team will use a computer–based approach to understand the links between 4 common brain disorders - Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, ALS and FTD and search for biological markers that can be used to trace onset of these diseases as well as monitor brain changes associated with them.
Dr. Manzoni believes that the SNPs contributing to the brain diseases are not randomly distributed in the DNA but are distributed across the DNA specifically associated with certain genes. In order to locate the SNPs, the researchers will take advantage of prior knowledge about the specific pathways impacted in brain diseases. Dr. Manzoni will then study the genes associated with each biological pathway impacted in brain disease and look for SNPs known to be closely associated with them.
If successful this study will form the basis of learning about new biological markers to diagnose different brain diseases.
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