New York, NY (March 16, 2023) – Using a new computational approach they developed to analyze large genetic datasets from rare disease cohorts, researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and colleagues have discovered previously unknown genetic causes of three rare conditions: primary lymphedema (characterized by tissue swelling), thoracic aortic aneurysm disease, and congenital deafness. The work was done in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Bristol, UK; KU Leuven, Belgium; the University of Tokyo; the University of Maryland; Imperial College London, and others from around the world.
An enhanced understanding of the functions of the genes involved in these and other disorders could pave the way for the development of treatments. The findings were published in the March 16 online issue of Nature Medicine https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-023-02211-z [DOI: 10.1038/s41591-023-02211-z].
Rare diseases affect approximately 1 in 20 people, but only a minority of patients receive a genetic diagnosis. Fewer than half of the 10,000 recorded rare diseases have a known genetic cause. Genome sequencing of large cohorts of rare disease patients provides a route toward discovering the genetic causes that remain unknown. However, large genetic datasets are challenging to work with, slowing down research significantly, say the investigators.
“While rare diseases are individually rare, collectively they are quite common. It is important for our understanding of human biology and for the development of diagnostics and therapeutics that the remaining causes are found,” said senior study author Ernest Turro, PhD, Associate Professor of Genetics and Genomics Sciences at Icahn Mount Sinai. “Many people with a rare disease struggle for many years to obtain a genetic diagnosis. By developing and applying statistical methods and computational approaches to find new causes of rare diseases, we hope to expand knowledge of the underlying causes of these diseases, hasten the time to diagnosis for patients, and pave the way for the development of treatments.”
The investigators studied a collection of 269 rare disease classes using data from 77,539 participants in the 100,000 Genomes Project, one of the largest datasets of phenotyped and whole-genome-sequenced rare disease patients. The researchers identified 260 associations between genes and rare disease classes, including 19 associations previously absent from the literature. Through an international academic collaboration, the authors validated the three most plausible novel associations by identifying additional cases in other countries and through experimental and bioinformatic approaches.
“We hope that our computational framework will help accelerate the discovery of the remaining unknown etiologies of rare diseases across the board. For now, we expect that a genetic diagnosis will be attainable for certain families with previously unexplained primary lymphedema, thoracic aortic aneurysm disease, and deafness,” said Daniel Greene, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Icahn Mount Sinai and lead author of the study. “We also plan to apply our methods in novel ways and in other datasets, with the aim of continuing to unravel the genetic causes of rare diseases.”
The paper is titled “Genetic association analysis of 77,539 genomes reveals rare disease etiologies.”
For the complete list of authors, and details on funding, see the paper at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-023-02211-z.
The National Organization for Rare Disorders has designated the Division of Medical Genetics and Genomics at The Mount Sinai Hospital as a Rare Disease Center of Excellence.
About the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is internationally renowned for its outstanding research, educational, and clinical care programs. It is the sole academic partner for the eight- member hospitals* of the Mount Sinai Health System, one of the largest academic health systems in the United States, providing care to a large and diverse patient population.
Ranked 14th nationwide in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and among the 99th percentile in research dollars per investigator according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Icahn Mount Sinai has a talented, productive, and successful faculty. More than 3,000 full-time scientists, educators, and clinicians work within and across 34 academic departments and 35 multidisciplinary institutes, a structure that facilitates tremendous collaboration and synergy. Our emphasis on translational research and therapeutics is evident in such diverse areas as genomics/big data, virology, neuroscience, cardiology, geriatrics, as well as gastrointestinal and liver diseases.
Icahn Mount Sinai offers highly competitive MD, PhD, and Master’s degree programs, with current enrollment of approximately 1,300 students. It has the largest graduate medical education program in the country, with more than 2,000 clinical residents and fellows training throughout the Health System. In addition, more than 550 postdoctoral research fellows are in training within the Health System.
A culture of innovation and discovery permeates every Icahn Mount Sinai program. Mount Sinai’s technology transfer office, one of the largest in the country, partners with faculty and trainees to pursue optimal commercialization of intellectual property to ensure that Mount Sinai discoveries and innovations translate into health care products and services that benefit the public.
Icahn Mount Sinai’s commitment to breakthrough science and clinical care is enhanced by academic affiliations that supplement and complement the School’s programs.
Through the Mount Sinai Innovation Partners (MSIP), the Health System facilitates the real-world application and commercialization of medical breakthroughs made at Mount Sinai. Additionally, MSIP develops research partnerships with industry leaders such as Merck & Co., AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk, and others.
The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is located in New York City on the border between the Upper East Side and East Harlem, and classroom teaching takes place on a campus facing Central Park. Icahn Mount Sinai’s location offers many opportunities to interact with and care for diverse communities. Learning extends well beyond the borders of our physical campus, to the eight hospitals of the Mount Sinai Health System, our academic affiliates, and globally.
* Mount Sinai Health System member hospitals: The Mount Sinai Hospital; Mount Sinai Beth Israel; Mount Sinai Brooklyn; Mount Sinai Morningside; Mount Sinai Queens; Mount Sinai South Nassau; Mount Sinai West; and New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai.