Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) will receive $5.4 million from the nonprofit Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, in what the fund said was the largest single private scientific grant ever invested in Alzheimer’s whole-genome sequencing focused on families with the disease.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, the Alzheimer’s Genome Project will obtain complete genomic sequences of more than 1,500 patients in families that have Alzheimer’s, and will include over 100 brain samples. The genomes of family members with Alzheimer’s will be compared to those members who have been spared the disease to identify sites in the genome that influence risk for Alzheimer’s.

The study—the first-ever whole-genome sequencing project targeting Alzheimer’s disease based on family samples—aims to discover the genetic on-off switches controlling the Alzheimer genes and how they are triggered by other genes and environmental factors. It will also examine DNA variants in the Alzheimer genes that influence risk for the disease.

Lead researcher for the project will be Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at MGH and the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School.

The first phase of the Alzheimer’s Genome Project is designed to identify the genes that influence Alzheimer’s, while the second phase will use whole-genome sequencing to determine how the genes confer increased risk for, or in some case, protect against the disease.

Findings from the Alzheimer’s Genome Project will be made freely available to the global scientific community so that the data can be used to advance the science more quickly, the fund said.

“We are not focused on incremental progress, but instead are going for the ‘long pass down field’ for a significant impact,” Jeff Morby, chairman and co-founder of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, said in a statement.

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