UofL leads new study to map disease genes in horses

Morris Animal Foundation awarded a three-year, $155,000 grant to a team of Kentucky and Danish researchers to build a new reference genome sequence for the domestic horse. The sequence will be a much needed tool for animal researchers worldwide and the equine industry in particular because it will significantly improve the ability to understand the role of genetics in animal health and well-being.

Ted Kalbfleisch, PhD, of the University of Louisville Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, is the principal investigator. Ludovic Orlando, PhD, of the University of Copenhagen and James MacLeod, PhD, of the University of Kentucky will join him in the research.

Genome sequencing allows researchers to decipher genetic information found in DNA and is important in mapping disease genes — discovering the diseases a horse might be genetically predisposed to developing. “In 2009, Morris Animal Foundation helped fund the first genome reference sequence for the domestic horse,” Kalbfleisch said. “Since then, there have been dramatic improvements in sequencing technology, as well as the computational hardware and algorithms required to analyze the data generated by the technology. We now have the tools necessary to vastly improve the reference genome for the horse.”

Rate of prescribing psychotropic drugs to Kentucky kids studied at UofL

Researchers with the University of Louisville’s Child and Adolescent Health Research Design and Support Unit (CAHRDS) initiated a study examining the higher-than-average rate of psychotropic medication prescribed to children in Kentucky.

Of almost 600,000 children receiving Medicaid in Kentucky, one in seven — 14 percent — has been prescribed at least one of these powerful psychiatric drugs. Almost half — 42 percent — of the children in Kentucky’s foster care system have been prescribed at least one. Both statistics approach twice the national average.

An eight-member team at the CAHRDS Unit in the Department of Pediatrics is working to find out why, funded by a $75,000 Improved Health Outcomes Program grant from Passport Health Plan.

Gilbert Liu, MD, heads the team which includes Charles Woods, MD; Michael Smith, MD; Deborah Winders Davis, PhD; David Lohr, MD; John Myers, PhD; Michelle Stevenson, MD; and Michael Rowland, PhD.

UofL researchers to examine asthma triggers in older adults

Although often considered a childhood health problem, asthma — a chronic inflammatory disease that causes recurrent cough, wheezing and chest tightness or shortness of breath — can cause serious illness for people age 60 and older, and little is known about asthma triggers specific to seniors.

Barbara Polivka, PhD, Shirley B. Powers Endowed Chair in Nursing, and her interdisciplinary team received a $2.3 million National Institute on Aging grant to study personal and environmental influences of asthma in older adults.

The researchers hope to recruit 190 asthma sufferers age 60 and older who are non-smokers and have no other lung diseases. They’ll gather information related to health history, occupational exposures and age at asthma onset. Blood work, pulmonary function tests and a skin-allergy test will be a part of the data collection process for each participant.

During this five-year study, the team will measure chemical emissions from outdoor and common indoor materials and allergens associated with higher risks of asthma. Experts know that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in cleaning products, room fresheners, carpets and paints cause problems for children with asthma, but this study will explore VOC exposure and asthma control in older adults for the first time.

UofL team first to report gene mutation role in most glioblastomas, melanomas

Researchers at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center have identified for the first time mutations that destabilize a DNA structure that turns a gene off. These mutations occur at four specific sites in what is known as the “hTERT promoter” in more than 75 percent of glioblastomas, a type of brain cancer, and melanomas, which are cancers of the skin.

The research was conducted by Brad Chaires, PhD; John Trent, PhD; Robert Gray; William Dean, PhD; Robert Buscaglia; Shelia Thomas; and Donald Miller, MD, PhD. The research was published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

The UofL team has shown that the mutations all occur in a region of what is known as the human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) gene. This region previously has been shown to form quadruplex DNA.

“We found that the mutations inactivate the gene’s ‘off’ switch so it becomes locked on, destabilizing the quadruplex and allowing it to be over-expressed,” Miller said. “This over-expression then drives the cells to continue to divide, which is the cause of the cancer.”