Miller School Researchers Receive NIH Grant to Study Multiple Sclerosis in Hispanics

Jacob McCauley, Ph.D., associate professor in the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics and Associate Director of the Center for Genome Technology within the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics (HIHG) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, has been awarded a $3.1 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health, to expand genetic studies of multiple sclerosis within the Hispanic population.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable and often debilitating disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and the body.

McCauley’s new grant will support an expanded scope of current genetic research in MS, including a more detailed analysis of underrepresented populations in genomic research. As the vast majority of genetic studies for the disease have been conducted in individuals of exclusively European ancestry, there is an unmet need to study the genetic etiology of MS in Hispanics. Despite the size of this population and its growth in the U.S., little is known about MS genetics in the Hispanic community.

“We are very excited for this opportunity to expand our genetic research on MS in the Hispanic population,” said McCauley. “By studying this diverse and understudied patient population, we will undoubtedly broaden our understanding of the genetic etiology of MS and further our pursuit to improve patient outcomes.”

For the study, investigators will characterize established MS risk loci within a Hispanic patient cohort, perform a genome-wide association study to identify novel genetic loci for MS and perform genotype-phenotype correlations. Their work seeks to understand the generalization of current genetic findings to individuals of diverse genetic ancestry, especially in light of the reported differences in disease prevalence, clinical course and progress of MS across various ancestral populations. By better understanding the relationship between genetics and disease outcomes in diverse populations, researchers hope to both improve diagnostics and develop more effective treatment options, and even preventive approaches, to MS.

The grant-funded study, “Genetic and Phenotypic Analysis of Multiple Sclerosis in Hispanics,” is a collaboration with Silvia Delgado, M.D., associate professor of neurology at the Miller School, and with investigators at the University of Southern California and the University of California – San Francisco. The San Juan MS Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, is also a key collaborator in this initiative.

Other members of the Miller School research team include Clara Manrique, clinical research coordinator for the HIHG, Ashley Beecham, graduate student in the HIHG, and Lissette Gomez, an HIHG statistical analyst.

This study is supported under grant number 1R01NS096212.

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