A quiet but potent revolution has recently swept through efforts to link genes to diseases, and Dani Fallin finds herself in the enviable position of specializing in the new analytic technique responsible for the revolution.
Traditional genetic analysis looks for single points of change in genes associated with disease, but haplotype analysis, one of Fallin’s specialties, compares several points within sections of genes known as haplotypes, which are inherited unaltered from one parent.
“Haplotype analysis gives us a much richer representation of that whole stream of genetic information that’s going down through families,” Fallin explains. “It’s much more information to deal with, but it’s a better way to look for the variations linked to disease.”
Says Jonathan Samet, chair of Epidemiology: “Studies based on haplotype analysis are proving powerful in finding genes associated with disease. This concept has become quite popular, as evidenced by the recent Haplotype Mapping Project initiated by the National Human Genome Research Institute.”
Fallin’s research includes efforts to develop new techniques for both haplotype analysis and genetic epidemiology studies, an approach that broadens the focus of genetic disease studies beyond family groups and into larger, unrelated populations. Switching to a broader, nonfamily-based focus, Fallin explains, lets researchers take advantage of larger pools of genetic data already available from various sources. A cost is paid in terms of loss of the guidance normally provided by family inheritance patterns, but Fallin and others are developing ways to cope with this loss.
This fall Fallin is embarking on a major new applied study that examines the genetic components of Alzheimer’s disease in 1,100 African Americans. She and her collaborators will search for genes unique to African Americans that could increase their risk of Alzheimer’s.