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2019 Biomarkers Across Neurodegenerative Diseases Grant (BAND)

Discovery of Common Genetic Interactions Across Neurodegenerative Diseases

How do variations in genes interact with one another to promote Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders?

Chad Myers, Ph.D.
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN - United States


For many years, scientists have been searching for variations of genes that increase one’s risk for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other forms of dementias. While a number of single gene variations have been linked to various dementias, researchers are trying to understand how a combination of multiple variations of genes could contribute to disease-related changes. An understanding of the different genetic interactions (called epistasis) may bring us closer to developing genetic-based methods as potential dementia therapies.
Traditionally, genes represent a cell’s DNA code for creation of a protein. Genes form a part of the human genome. Using human genome-wide association studies (GWAS) data, Dr. Chad Myers and colleagues have developed a novel computational method called BridGE (Bridging Gene sets with Epistasis) for identifying disease-related gene interactions. Analyzing genetic interactions can be a daunting task due to the large number of different genetic combinations but BridGE helps overcome this with targeted searches. This technique involves analyzing genetic data from large groups of people, and it has identified genetic interactions linked to Parkinson’s and several other brain disorders. Past studies show some of these interactions may impact disease processes in multiple types of dementia. Based on these findings, Dr. Myers believes that certain brain diseases may have common genetic underpinnings.     

Research Plan

Dr. Myers and his team will build on extending and applying their computational approach by conducting a larger study to further test their methods. Using genetic data from 10 large cohorts of individuals with Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers aim to identify novel gene interactions linked to each disease, as well as those shared by both disorders. Dr. Myers and his team will then develop a method for prioritizing those interactions that appear to play the most significant role in initiating the biological underpinnings of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases


The study results may help shed new light on how genetic changes and their interplay could lead to brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. These results may also lead to genetic-based strategies for diagnosing and treating brain diseases. 

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