HudsonAlpha researchers link gene to rare disease through social media platform for genetics

Huntsville, Ala. – Scientists at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology have connected developmental delay and intellectual disability (DD/ID) to variations in the BRSK2 gene with the help of a social media platform used by geneticists all over the world.

Researchers in Greg Cooper’s lab recently published a paper in the American Journal of Human Genetics associating genetic variation in a gene called BRSK2 with neurodevelopmental disorders. They put together enough cases to make the link by assembling a cohort of affected individuals through a website called GeneMatcher.

The Cooper Lab identified children with variations in BRSK2, all with developmental delay or intellectual disability, in the course of a Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research (CSER) Project. HudsonAlpha’s CSER project is aimed at identifying the genetic causes of undiagnosed conditions by using genome sequencing, and is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Through careful assessment of the CSER cases, researchers honed in on disruptions to the BRSK2 gene as a potential cause, but they wanted more instances to compare. That’s when they turned to GeneMatcher, a website from the Baylor-Hopkins Center for Mendelian Genomics, which allows researchers to input genes of interest and match with other scientists all over the world. Through the site, five more individuals with variations in the gene were identified and compared to one another. All nine individuals presented with delays, including speech and motor function, and many had diagnoses of autism, behavioral problems, and other issues.

Statistical and biological analysis of the mutations in BRSK2, which contributes to brain development and function, confirmed the association of the gene with DD/ID.

“One main challenge for rare disease diagnosis is obvious,” said Greg Cooper, PhD, faculty investigator. “If the disease is rare enough, it’s hard to put together the number of cases we need to draw our most important conclusions. Being able to compare notes and share samples with researchers across the planet is an enormous asset. Our tools for collaboration give the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology a global reach — a way to solve medical mysteries all over the world.”

This CSER project was supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number UM1HG007301. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

About HudsonAlpha: HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a nonprofit institute dedicated to developing and applying scientific advances to health, agriculture, learning, and commercialization. Opened in 2008, HudsonAlpha’s vision is to leverage the synergy between discovery, education, medicine, and economic development in genomic sciences to improve the human condition around the globe. The HudsonAlpha biotechnology campus consists of 152 acres nestled within Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second largest research park. The state-of-the-art facilities co-locate nonprofit scientific researchers with entrepreneurs and educators. HudsonAlpha has become a national and international leader in genetics and genomics research and biotech education and includes more than 30 diverse biotech companies on campus. To learn more about HudsonAlpha, visit

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Margetta Thomas