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Kathy Wilets

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Phone: 801-581-5717

Apr 16, 2014 11:19 AM

SALT LAKE CITY - In the race to unravel the medical mysteries surrounding the genetics of stroke, members of the International Stroke Genetics Consortium plan to cross the finish line together.

Founded in 2007 by researchers and physicians mostly from across Europe and the U.S., ISGC’s goal is to work collaboratively to further the understanding of stroke and its complex set of underlying diseases to improve treatment. On April 3, ISGC brought its work to the University of Utah for two days of lectures and progress reports on joint research and study.

“I suppose there are still labs out there that are racing each other to find the next best thing,” said the University of Utah’s Jennifer Majersik, M.D., a vascular neurologist and director of the U.’s Stroke Center. “We’re actually running the race together.”

ISGC’s collaborative focus is driven by the practical realization that no single lab has sufficient resources or research cases to advance the science of stroke on its own, said Majersik, whose own research is focused on the genetic underpinnings of strokes in families. By working together, ISGC members can work more quickly toward medical discovery. The group meets twice annually, alternating between sites in Europe and the United States.

 “If you don’t meet that frequently, you’re never pushed hard enough to keep moving,” Majersik said, adding that it was an honor to host the conference. “If you’re only at your own institution, you are limited. In this case I get to be around people from all over the world who are the experts.”

Held at Red Butte Gardens, the Utah event was ISGC’s 15th conference and its first at the University of Utah. Some 60 physicians and researchers from 12 countries, four continents and 13 U.S. states were in attendance.

Among the presenters were U. researchers Stefan Pulst, M.D., Dr. med, and Lisa Cannon-Albright, Ph.D. Pulst, the chair of the neurology department spoke about his study of rare Mendelian diseases. Cannon-Albright, chief of the division of genetic epidemiology, discussed population-based research approaches to genetic discovery based on Utah’s unique genealogy resources and the state’s population database.

“Throughout the meeting, all attending were impressed by the venue and the level of science discussed,” said Thomas Battey, research coordinator at the Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital and a conference organizer. “The atmosphere at the University of Utah fostered the open discussion which has become a hallmark of ISGC meetings.”

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the developed world after heart disease and cancer. Genetics may contribute up to 50 percent of an individual’s risk of developing a stroke. Genetic researchers hope one day to be able test for genes that identify a person’s increased risk for stroke at a young age which would allow for more effective treatment and earlier intervention and treatment.