Scientists collaborating across 250 institutions in 35 countries have identified variations of the genetic code that are associated with intracranial volume, which is a reflection of the maximum brain volume an individual achieves over a lifetime. These variations were also found to be associated with a person’s individual risk for Parkinson’s disease and to cognitive ability. The findings provide new avenues of research that may lead to an enhanced understanding of how differences in our genetic code can predispose individuals to brain disorders.
The findings were the result of the collective analysis of MRI brain scans and DNA from over 32,000 people worldwide. The researchers published their work in the October 3, 2016 issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience .
“The magnitude of this study is truly remarkable,” said Vinay Pai, Ph.D., director of the Division of Health Informatics Technologies at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). “If you want to discover genes that affect the brain, the only way we know how to do that is by analyzing tens of thousands of brain scans and their corresponding genetic data. But, that requires bringing together hundreds of researchers and their biomedical datasets, all of whom may have a different way of looking at the data. In this study, we are seeing the fruits of NIH investments in data science, which have helped to ensure that all the researchers were analyzing the data in the same way and with the same degree of scientific rigor. This is a study that simply could not have been conducted five years ago because no system existed to enable collaboration on this scale.”
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