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Wellcome Trust Research Round-Up

27 May, 2014

Our fortnightly round-up up of news from the Wellcome Trust research community.

Many mental illnesses reduce life expectancy more than heavy smoking

B0005825 Two sides of personality.Serious mental illnesses reduce life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, according to analysis by University of Oxford psychiatrists. The loss of years is equivalent to or worse than that caused by heavy smoking.

Publishing in the journal World Psychiatry, the researchers found and analysed 20 review papers that included over 1.7 million individuals and 250,000 deaths associated with a range of diagnoses – mental health problems, substance and alcohol abuse, dementia, autistic spectrum disorders, learning disabilities and childhood behavioural disorders – and compared them with the data for heavy smoking.

The average reduction in life expectancy for people with bipolar disorder was found to be between 9 and 20 years; for schizophrenia it was found to be between 10 and 20 years, for drug and alcohol abuse between 9 and 24 years, and for recurrent depression around 7 to 11 years – whereas the loss of years among heavy smokers is between 8 and 10 years.

Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow Dr Seena Fazel, who led the study, said: “We found that many mental health diagnoses are associated with a drop in life expectancy as great as that associated with smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day. What we do need is for researchers, care providers and governments to make mental health a much higher priority for research and innovation.”

Mutations in mitochondrial DNA increase the risk of late-onset human disease

B0006053 MitochondrionMutations in mitochondrial DNA increase the risk of developing common late-onset diseases, according to research published in the journal PLoS Genetics.

Professor Patrick Chinnery, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University, examined the mitochondrial DNA of over 30 000 individuals with 11 common diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and coronary artery disease, and compared variations in their mitochondrial DNA with DNA samples from healthy control groups.

“We show that mitochondrial DNA variants can both increase or decrease an individual’s risk of disease, replicating and expanding upon several previously reported studies,” explains Prof Chinnery in the paper.

The findings highlight the role of mitochondrial mechanisms in the onset and development of common diseases, and emphasise the importance of incorporating the mitochondrial genome in comprehensive genetic association studies in the future. 

Atlas shows how genes affect our metabolismmetabolic-pathways-homepage

Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have provided new insight into how genetic variants influence responses to complex diseases and drugs through changes in metabolic pathways.

Publishing in Nature Genetics, Dr Nicole Soranzo and her team developed an atlas of associations between genetic sequences and metabolism to understand the molecular pathways underlying common, complex diseases. The atlas links 145 genetic regions with more than 400 molecules involved in metabolism in human blood, such as vitamins, lipids and carbohydrates.

The team connected genes to their likely substrates or products and linked these to a number of conditions – including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes – and further found that the regions these genes lie in are currently targeted in drug-development programmes. The remaining genes located here could prove to be targets for future drug discovery.

Dr Gabi Kastenmüller from the Helmholtz Center Munich in Germany said: “We developed an open-access database that allows researchers to easily search through the findings, to understand genetic variants associated with metabolism one metabolite at a time. This database will facilitate drug discovery for metabolic disorders and also help researchers to understand the biology behind disease.”

In other news:

  • The second round of the Sustaining Health funding call for projects is now open, seeking projects addressing health and sustainability challenges, specifically at the nexus between health, nutrition and the environment. The call has two highlights:

i) the health impacts of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures

ii) how to feed nine billion people.

  • The Wellcome Trust has signed a Concordat on openness on animal research in the UK, joining 72 other organisations across the scientific sector, including universities, charities, commercial companies, research councils, umbrella bodies and learned societies.
  •  Dr Nisha Philip from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology was awarded the prize for best talk at the 10th annual BioMalPar EVIMalaR conference in Heidelberg, Germany.

Image credits: (top) Stevie Taylor, Wellcome Images, (middle) Dr David Furness, Wellcome Images, (bottom) Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.


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