Genome British Columbia

Genome British Columbia

February 16, 2011 14:30 ET

Genome BC: Scientists Explore Link Between Genes, Antisocial Behavior and Cholesterol

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Feb. 16, 2011) - Could a person's ability to make cholesterol be linked to antisocial behaviour? Two local scientists are exploring the genetic pathways of a small group of individuals who carry a change in a gene that may elicit adverse behavioural reactions to cholesterol-lowering medications. This research will help pave the way for scientists to look at the links between genes and mental health, ideally resulting in targeted or personalized treatment for those suffering with mental health issues.

Dr. Cornelius Boerkoel at the Child and Family Research Institute and Dr. Marco Marra of Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre at the BC Cancer Agency, are looking at a small target population who experience antisocial behaviour and aggression as a side effect of taking "statins," a drug commonly prescribed to treat high cholesterol.

Funded by Genome BC as part of its Strategic Opportunities Fund ($120,000), the Child and Family Research Institute ($50,000) and the Scottish Rite Foundation ($70,000), Drs. Boerkoel and Marra are examining cells from a group of individuals who exhibited anti-social behaviours after taking statin drugs. A series of biochemical tests will be done to determine if these individuals produce cholesterol differently. If they do, scientists will search for any genetic mutations that influence the way that these individuals make cholesterol.

"This study shows the power of personalized medicine," says Dr. Boerkoel. "If a psychiatrist or doctor could test someone with behavioural problems to see if they have an issue with cholesterol production, these patients could potentially be treated with specific drugs in a dosage that avoids or lessens the undesirable side-effects." Dr. Boerkoel notes that as a general category, the economic impact to society could be huge if mental health issues could be understood on a genetic level. Medical therapies could be targeted to the needs of the individual, with genomics removing the "guesswork" that is currently involved.

"Many of the most exciting genomic advances are in the field of personalized medicine," notes Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. "This will benefit patients as medical treatments can be tailored to their unique biology but it will also allow us to spend our health care dollars in a more sustainable and effective manner."

The researchers will look at 20 individuals who developed antisocial behaviours after they began treatment with statins and subsequently recovered normal social behaviour once they stopped taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Drs. Boerkoel and Marra hope that the results of this research will eventually help physicians predict who can safely use cholesterol-lowering drugs, and who should not. By the end of this study in 2012, diagnostic tests for patients may be ready. With an estimated 7.8% of the Canadian population using statins and with statin use expected to increase as the national population ages, understanding how the drug interacts with the mental health of patients will be of interest to those suffering from diseases caused by abnormal cholesterol levels.

This research will also provide new insight into understanding drug interactions overall, an area that is looked at in all clinical trials and is necessary for the approval of any drug for sale in Canada.

About Genome British Columbia:
Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada's West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $450M in technology platforms and research projects. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada. www.genomebc.ca

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