WASHINGTON -- Three leading research institutions will worktogether to find the genes responsible for manic-depressiveillness (MDI). The new consortium, which will consist ofresearchers from Stanford University, Johns Hopkins Universityand Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, will be called the DanaConsortium on the Genetic Basis of Manic-Depressive Illness.

MDI afflicts an estimated 2 million to 2.5 million people in theU.S., Kay Jamison, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, toldBioWorld on Tuesday. Of these, 15 percent to 20 percenteventually commit suicide, and about half of all sufferers "havemajor drinking and/or drug problems."

What makes this project particularly timely is the completionby the Genome Project of a genetic linkage map, Stanfordgenetics professor David Cox told BioWorld. "It (gives us) anorganized way to figure it out (so that) in a couple of years wewill know the answer," he said.

In recent years, Cox said, "tons of money have been spent onthe genetics of bipolar disease, but the process has been veryopen ended."

Stanford will investigate the genetics of MDI and Johns Hopkinswill seek 50 families with at least three immediate membersafflicted with the genetic form of MDI and one parent free ofthe illness.

The number of families is critical because "only then will wehave a statistical sample that is large enough to predict thatmultiple genes can be identified," J. Raymond DePaulo Jr.,director of the Affective Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins andthe university's program director for the Dana Consortium, saidat a press conference on Tuesday.

It is not known how many genes are involved in MDI. "But asgeneticists, we hope we will find a gene that plays animportant role in a large number of families," Cox toldBioWorld. That would provide a handle on understanding themolecular mechanics of the disease so that better treatmentscan be developed, he said.

"If it's a different gene in each family, it's going to be hard toidentify all the genes, and the genetics will have less of animpact," he added.

"As a clinician, the challenge is to find a better diagnosis,"Jamison told BioWorld. Currently, diagnosis generally requiresa very competent psychiatrist; development of a test wouldidentify sufferers so they could receive treatment in a timelyfashion.

Cold Spring Harbor will work with Stanford and Johns Hopkinsto integrate the findings into a data base that will speed geneticanalysis. The consortium also will conduct meetings on thesocial and ethical implications of MDI research and promoteMDI education for health-care professionals and the media.

-- David C. Holzman Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.