Mayo Clinic establishes landmark research program to predict and prevent alcoholism


ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Mayo Clinic has established a landmark research program in the genomics of addiction with the long-term goal of predicting and preventing alcoholism and other chemical dependencies.

The first step in the research will be to identify human genes that contribute to someone's vulnerability to alcoholism. The next step will be to develop ways to use the genetic information to protect someone from becoming addicted. Ultimately, people who are at increased risk of becoming addicted could receive personalized therapy that could change their lives.

The total investment needed over five years to support this research is nearly $20 million. The Samuel C. Johnson family of Racine, Wis., and The SC Johnson Fund have committed a total of $12.05 million over five years to the program. Mayo is responsible for raising the additional funding from other sources. The generosity of the Johnson family will provide full funding of the program in 2004 and half of the funds needed for 2005-2008. In honor of this significant support, the program will be named the Samuel C. Johnson Program in the Genomics of Addiction.

Samuel C. Johnson served as the chairman of the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees from 1983 to 1990 and has been the longest-serving public member of Mayo's board.

"We are grateful to the Johnson family for their generosity and support," says Hugh Smith, M.D., chair, Board of Governors, Mayo Clinic Rochester. "Their generosity is another important step in a concerted effort by Mayo Clinic to secure both private and public funds that will allow us to translate genomic discovery directly into improved patient care. The early success of our partnership with the University of Minnesota through the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics helped spark interest from and ultimately the generosity of the Samuel C. Johnson family in making this gift. Clearly, momentum is building toward accomplishing even greater things as we work with a variety of public and private partners to move genomic medicine forward."

David Mrazek, M.D., chair, Mayo Clinic Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, will direct this research program. "We have known for years that alcoholism runs in families and that children of alcoholic parents are at very high risk of developing the problem. We also know that a deep craving for alcohol is a core component of the problem and that there is good evidence that these cravings have a genetic basis. Some genes already have been linked to alcoholism, but every relevant gene must be identified so we can learn how they interact," says Dr. Mrazek. "This can lead to personalized therapies for people at risk for developing alcoholism and other addictions, involving effective methods of prevention and innovative treatments."

Eric Wieben, Ph.D., director, Mayo Clinic Genomics Research Center, and Mayo's project director for the Minnesota Partnership in Biotechnology and Medical Genomics says, "The emerging field of Medical Genomics promises to transform the practice of medicine. The Samuel C. Johnson Program in the Genomics of Addiction will let us apply the latest advances in science to reducing the burden of addiction on our families and our society. Attacking the problem of alcoholism and other addictions at the point of origin would not have been possible 10 years ago, but it is today."

Nearly 14 million Americans, one out of every 13 adults, abuse alcohol or are alcoholic, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive and often fatal disease. It is often hereditary, which is why comprehensive genomics research is needed.

Several infrastructure components are essential to this and other genomics research efforts at Mayo, including adequate research space. A request for $20 million for new research space in Rochester for the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics is included in Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's 2004 state bonding proposal. This partnership is a collaboration among Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota and the State of Minnesota. Mayo plans to leverage its own investments, state funding and the philanthropic gifts to create the synergy necessary for scientific advances.

More information about Mayo Clinic's genomics research can be found at People interested in making financial contributions for this research should contact the Mayo Department of Development, 507-284-8540. Clinical trials are not yet open for enrollment for this research.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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