Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium

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Findings from the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium

Bipolar disorder

Key findings:

The first genome-wide association study of bipolar disorder has shown that there are many genes that influence an individual's susceptibility to bipolar disorder and that each gene on its own makes a relatively small contribution to risk.

The results provide an indication of the biological systems that are important in bipolar disorder. For example, several of the genes identified play a key role in the way the nerve cells in our brains talk to each other.

Professor Nick Craddock, Cardiff University and Scientific Advisor for MDF The Bipolar Organisation: "The powerful molecular genetic approaches that we are using provide a window into the workings of the brain in those suffering from bipolar illness. By helping to unravel the mechanisms of illness, the findings will help pave the way to better diagnosis and treatment. Some new therapies based on a better understanding of the illness will involve novel drugs but others are likely to include forms of education, lifestyle advice and talking treatments.

"The current focus of the government's approach to severe mental illness often amounts to a pessimistic 'palliative care' model. With the ongoing scientific advances in understanding of illness we have the opportunity to make things very different for the next generation.

"This should be a time of great optimism for those individuals and families that have experienced illnesses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression."

About the disease:

Bipolar mood disorders affect around 100 million people worldwide.

Coronary heart disease

Key findings:

The study found several new genetic loci (regions) that increased the risk of coronary artery disease. Most notable was a locus on chromosome 9 which increased risk by almost 50% in the half of subjects carrying one copy of the risk variant, and almost doubled the risk in 20% of subjects who carried both copies. The same locus has also been identified in two other recent studies and altogether the data provide irrefutable evidence that this is a genuine and important genetic risk factor for heart disease.

Professor Nilesh Samani, University of Leicester: "Coronary artery disease, which commonly leads to heart attacks or angina, is the most frequent cause of death in the industrialised world and by 2020 will be the most important cause of death world-wide. In addition to known risk factors such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes, genetic factors play an important role in causing coronary artery disease. Almost invariably patients who develop coronary artery disease early report a family history of the condition.

"Identifying these new genetic variants is a first step that can help us in many ways - to better predict who are at higher risk; to identify more specific ways of prevention by understanding how these genes operate and potentially, and most excitingly, in developing new treatments."

Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation (BHF): "This is an exciting outcome from what is a huge collaborative effort. Although it will take some time yet to establish the importance of the identified genes for families at risk of heart disease it is very significant that the study confirms results of two other recently reported genetic surveys.

"The results should help us develop better tests to identify people at highest risk of heart disease and will enhance our understanding of its underlying mechanisms, ultimately leading to new treatments."

About the disease:

Coronary Heart Disease is the UK's biggest killer accounting for 105,000 deaths annually - British Heart Foundation.

Crohn's disease

Key findings:

Three new genes increasing a person's susceptibility to the disease (IRGM, NKX2-3 and PTPN2) and a region containing several genes. In addition, the researchers have identified an important role for two "gene deserts", areas of the genome that are devoid of genes but which might contribute to Crohn's disease by influence how genes work nearby or even a long way away. The study has also confirmed the importance of a process known as autophagy in the development of Crohn's disease.

PTPN2, which is involved in regulation of the immune system, was also found to be shared with type 1 diabetes. This is the first time a genetic link has been identified between the two diseases.

Dr Miles Parkes, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital and the University of Cambridge: "The study has substantially advanced our understanding of what causes Crohn's disease, with the scale of this study providing the most comprehensive evaluation to date of the genetic basis of this disease. There is a lot of follow-up work required to fully understand the immunological impact of the genetic associations that we have identified. However the genetic findings themselves have already provided some major leads regarding possible new treatment options."

Richard Driscoll, Director, National Association for Colitis and Crohn's Disease: "People who have Crohn's Disease are often diagnosed at a young age and have to live with the distressing and painful symptoms for the remainder of their lives. These new genetic findings will encourage everyone that real progress is at last being made in understanding how Crohn's develops. With a greater understanding we are that much closer to being able to give people a more accurate prognosis of how their illness may develop and which treatments may work best for them."

About the disease:

Between 30,000 and 60,000 people in the UK have Crohn's Disease - National Association for Colitis and Crohn's Disease


Key findings:

The Hypertension genome-wide scan shows a comparable number of signals to the other diseases studied. These are now being evaluated in additional populations. The results suggest that hypertension is less likely to arise due to a small number of major genetic influences, but is due to numerous interacting factors.

Professor Mark Caulfield, Barts and The London School of Medicine, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, London: "Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is an incredibly common disorder, affecting one billion people worldwide. Our study has highlighted the complex nature of the disease with many signals for further follow-up. This is probably in part because of the high number of genes involved, which helps to explain why patients with hypertension need to be treated with a combination of multiple drugs. These findings bring us closer to understanding the mechanisms by which hypertension may arise. We are now following up the signals-up work in much larger numbers to verify our positive findings."

About the disease:

High blood pressure affects over 16 million people in the UK and 1 billion people worldwide. It can cause stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Key findings:

A number of markers were found to be associated with RA, implicating several genes for the first time in this disease process. Further work will be required to validate the findings and understand how the variation within key genes influences the development of RA, the course of the disease and response to treatment.

Professor Jane Worthington, University of Manchester: "Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex disease with considerable variation observed between patients both in terms of the severity of the symptoms and the response to therapies. The findings of the WTCCC make a major step forward in terms of understanding how multiple genetic factors may influence this disease process.

"Patients with rheumatoid arthritis are also at increased risk of other conditions such as cardiovascular disease and an increase in type 1 diabetes has been observed in families with rheumatoid arthritis. The collaborative nature of this ground breaking study will greatly facilitate our investigation of genetic risk factors that may be common to different diseases.

"Despite recent advances in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis this disease continues to present a significant healthcare burden. Greater understanding of the genetic basis of susceptibility is important to the development of novel therapeutic approaches particularly those aimed at arresting the disease process before significant disability has occurred."

Alan Silman, medical director of the Arthritis Research Campaign: "Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious form of arthritis and we have known for some time that there is a major genetic component to this disease. The results from this unique study have highlighted some exciting opportunities to explore the role of genes, previously unsuspected as being important in increasing the risk of arthritis. We will be supporting urgent follow-up of these findings which hopefully could lead to both an increased understanding of what cause rheumatoid arthritis as well as pointing to possible new cures."

About the disease:

387,000 people in the UK have rheumatoid arthritis - Arthritis Research Campaign.

Type 1 diabetes

Key findings:

Four confirmed new chromosome regions and two further possible regions that increase the risk of developing this autoimmune disease. One region, the gene PTPN2, is shared with Crohn's disease and is involved in regulation of the immune system. This is the first time a genetic link has been identified between the two diseases.

Professor John Todd, University of Cambridge: "We now have confirmation that there are at least ten genes or chromosome regions that increase the chances of developing type 1 diabetes. We know that the causes of diabetes are complex and that there is an interaction between genetic and environmental factors, such as diet, low levels of vitamin D and viral infections, leading to development of the disease in 1 in 300-400 children. This is the first time that we have seen a specific genetic link between type 1 diabetes and Crohn's disease."

"This new link between the two diseases is a possible new avenue for us to understand how they occur. The pathways that lead to Crohn's disease are increasingly well understood, particularly when enhanced by these new findings. We hope that progress in treating Crohn's disease will give us clues on how to treat type 1 diabetes."

Karen Addington, CEO of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in the UK: "This study is a landmark in the field of diabetes research. For the first time we can pinpoint which genes increase the likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes. The more that we understand how and why the condition occurs, the closer we come to being able to prevent and cure it."

About the disease:

350,000 people, including 20,000 children, have type 1 diabetes in the UK - Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Type 2 diabetes

Key findings:

Using data generated by the WTCCC, the type 2 diabetes research groups (based in Oxford and Exeter) recently reported the discovery of several novel genes involved in the development of type 2 diabetes and obesity. One of these genes (FTO) influences risk of diabetes through an effect on weight and risk of obesity. The other three regions contain genes (CDKAL1, CDKN2A and IGF2BP2) that have a direct effect on diabetes risk.

This work also confirmed several diabetes-susceptibility genes identified in other genome scans.

Professor Mark McCarthy from the University of Oxford: "This research helps us to understand that, for most people at least, an individual's risk of developing diabetes as they get older is influenced by a number of genes, as well as by their environment. Clearly, the more 'high risk' alleles a person inherits, the higher the likelihood that they will go on to develop diabetes."

Professor Andrew Hattersley of the Peninsula Medical School, Exeter: "We now have significantly more pieces to the jigsaw that will help us understand the mechanisms behind type 2 diabetes. Each piece of new knowledge takes us a step closer towards a future with improved prevention and treatment of this very significant condition."

Dr Iain Frame, Research Manager at Diabetes UK: "The WTCCC has been an excellent example of collaborative working and has produced some exciting results about the genetics of Type 2 diabetes.

"It is important to remember that Type 2 diabetes is a genetic condition which is not only associated with lifestyle factors. The more we unravel about the genetics of Type 2 diabetes, the bigger the steps we take towards new ways to treat and prevent the condition.

"Diabetes UK funded the original collection of case samples for Type 2 diabetes at the beginning of this study. It is thanks to the joint efforts of Diabetes UK, a number of excellent researchers and the Wellcome Trust that these discoveries have been possible."

About the disease:

1.9 million people in the UK live with type 2 diabetes - Diabetes UK