Miller School Researchers Expand Study of MS in Hispanics

Jacob McCauley, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics and Director of the Biorepository at the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, has been awarded $641,140 from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to expand studies of multiple sclerosis in the Hispanic population. For their grant, “Exploring Multiple Sclerosis Genetics in Hispanics,” McCauley and his research team plan to conduct the largest study of Hispanic MS patients, examining more than 1,000 DNA samples.

“We are very excited about this project and the opportunity to begin exploring the genetic aspects of MS within the Hispanic population,” McCauley said, noting the work will complement the larger MS genetic projects that he and Margaret A. Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., Director of the Hussman Institute, are taking part in with the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium. McCauley is also Co-Director of the BioResource component of the University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which addresses health problems prevalent in ethnic/racial-minority and medically underserved communities.

Genetics play a proven role in the development of MS, a common and costly cause of severe neurological disability, but current findings explain only a fraction of the genetics.

McCauley and his team will use novel technologies and approaches to aid rapid and powerful genetic analyses to find additional genes that will shed light on the causes of MS in Hispanics and ultimately improve treatment approaches for all MS patients.

They will collect environmental exposure data for the next phase of genetic analysis to understand how genetic and environmental factors may act together to influence risk and disease outcomes in Hispanics. Understanding these interactions and both genetic and environmental risk factors will help neurologists develop better therapies and treatments for individuals suffering with this devastating disease that causes muscle weakness and loss of muscle tissue, which worsens over time.

As part of the larger, collaborative scientific goals of the international MS genetics consortium, McCauley and Pericak-Vance will oversee a $3.4 million genetics experiment to genotype 45,000 total samples (including more than 25,000 MS cases) at the Hussman Institute. The project, which will include samples from across the globe, represents the largest single genetics experiment to date in search of an understanding of the genetics of MS.

In addition to McCauley and Pericak-Vance, other members of the Hispanic MS grant team include Silvia Delgado, M.D., assistant professor of clinical neurology; Kottil Rammohan, M.D., Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence; Clara Manrique, clinical research coordinator for the Hussman Institute; Ashley Beecham, M.S., senior research analyst in the Department of Human Genetics; and Athena Hadjixenofontos, a graduate student in the Department of Human Genetics.

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