EU funds Integrated Project to explore the genetics of addiction
While the role of genetic factors in a person's susceptibility to addiction has been recognised for some time, the complexity of the condition and the influence of other external factors means that isolating the genes involved presents an enormous research challenge. In an attempt to meet this challenge, the European Union is providing 8.1 million euro for the GENADDICT Integrated Project, which gathers eight leading public and private research organisations under the coordination of Professor Ian Kitchen from the University of Surrey, UK. The project is funded under the 'Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health' section of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). Professor Kitchen explained to CORDIS News that the project has two major components: 'First there is the human genetic component, which is run by an Icelandic biopharmaceutical company called deCODE genetics. What deCODE can do that sets it apart from other organisations is the ability to conduct a population based, genome-wide gene discovery effort that can home in on genes involved in addiction, just as in any of the many disease phenotypes the company has had success in thus far.' Working with Iceland's National Centre of Addiction Medicine, deCODE genetics will carry out genotyping of individuals with alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and other addictions in order to characterise their genetic make up, and will then look at their family histories in order to try to identify those genes associated with addiction. The second component of the project will use genetically manipulated mice models to examine which genes could have an effect on addiction. Professor Kitchen explained that addiction affects mice and humans in a very similar way, and by removing single genes from mice subjects and analysing the subsequent influence on addiction, the team hopes to provide clues as to which human genes they should analyse further. As a result of these complimentary approaches, the GENADDICT team hopes to be able to identify both genes that are common in addiction processes, as well as genes that may be specific to certain addictions such as alcohol. Professor Kitchen emphasises, however, that the team does not expect to identify a single 'addiction gene', but rather clusters of genes that influence a person's predisposition to addiction. If they are successful, Professor Kitchen identifies two clear applications that could emerge from project: 'In the short term, it could lead to the diagnosis of people that are prone to addiction, while in the long term, our research could help to identify novel targets for pharmaceutical companies to produce treatments that can fight drug cravings and relapse.' Professor Kitchen is aware that, as with most successful genetic research, if the GENADDICT project achieves all its aims it could raise some important ethical questions, particularly with respect to a diagnostic test for predisposition to addiction. 'If we are successful, it will be for society as a whole to tackle the ethical questions raised by our work,' he said. For now, however, Professor Kitchen is simply glad that EU funding has enabled GENADDICT to build the necessary critical mass of scientists to carry out such a study. 'It is very exciting to be able to bring together the capabilities of eight leading groups across Europe,' he concluded.