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Achieving a better understanding drug and alcohol addiction with BRII+

Medical genomics researchers at Indiana University are making great strides in helping medical researchers and clinicians to better understand the genetic underpinnings of drug addiction and alcohol dependence.

The US Department of Health & Human Services estimates that substance abuse causes Americans millions of illnesses and injuries and results in thousands of deaths every year. While the HHS offers many scientifically-based resources to help prevent abuse, the science of drug and alcohol addiction is not entirely well-understood. Medical genomics researchers at Indiana University from Dr. Tatiana Foroud's laboratory however, are making great strides in helping medical researchers and clinicians to better understand the genetic underpinnings of drug addiction and alcohol dependence. Leah Wetherill, a researcher working with Dr. Foroud in the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics at IU School of Medicine, said of their research, “we are trying to identify genes that are associated with alcohol, drug, and behavioral disorders. These genes could help the field understand useful mechanisms for pharmacological treatment of addiction in general, and to specific drugs of addiction.”

One of the main projects that Wetherill and her colleagues are working on concerns testing if genetic markers are associated with traits related to addiction and alcohol abuse. To do this work, their research consortium collected genomic data on more than 12,000 individuals. She said, “the field of genetic analysis has gone from having a few hundred genetic markers on a few hundred people, to having 12 million markers on 12,000 people.  In addition to that, we also have whole exome and whole genome sequencing data, which means in addition to analyzing a particular marker, we can analyze the sequence of nucleotides across the genome. These files are quite large and require heavy computation time to clean, process, and use in analyses.”

To do this work, these researchers are using IU’s newest supercomputer Big Red II+. Of BRII+, Wetherill said, “it has enabled us to expand the number and types of traits we can analyze for other collaborators in our consortium.  It also has allowed us to provide summary statistics for other consortium which meta-analyze data from several groups.  By increasing the same size of these analyses, these meta-analyses provide more reliable results that enlighten the field on drug and alcohol addiction.” She continued, “with BRII+ one person can submit all the necessary jobs.  This is a stark contrast to using the older computer systems, where one person could only submit 500 jobs at a time.  Using BRII+ is not only easier but it is more efficient, since thousands of jobs can be submitted at once rather than waiting to submit jobs every 2-3 days. Now I can submit jobs for the set of traits I want to analyze for the week, which I run in 3 separate groups based on racial ancestry.  The jobs finish within days, with no incomplete output files and no failed jobs. This has literally changed our computing life!”