Over the last decade, a technological revolution has taken place in molecular biology, allowing scientists to obtain detailed data on our individual genetic constitution on a scale unimaginable only a few years ago. Armed with this genomic data, scientists all over the world are now trying to identify the genetic factors underlying human diseases and other characteristics. However, the human organism, in its complexity, remains a good guardian of its many secrets. To overcome this hurdle, Göring’s research group works on the development of sophisticated statistical methods and their application to well-designed human datasets and novel genomic data.
There are currently three main research topics in Göring’s research group: They are working on statistical methods and search strategies for identifying rare genetic variants with strong individual effects on complex traits in families. Such variants are likely to be very important but are very difficult to identify. They are taking advantage of large pedigrees of Mexican Americans from around San Antonio, which have whole genome sequence data, to systematically identify functional variants influencing a variety of clinical traits and related biomarkers.
Another research focus is the genetic investigation of gene expression, based on the belief that many of the genetic factors influencing the risk of common diseases are subtle changes to DNA that result in alterations in the quantity, location and/or timing of gene expression. One current collaborative project involves identification of genes increasing risk for schizophrenia, by analyzing gene expression profiles of cell lines from individuals with and without the disease.
Another research topic is the study of common infections, which are now thought to play a hidden role in many diseases not normally considered as infectious diseases (including, among many others, atherosclerosis and perhaps even schizophrenia). Göring’s group has measured 13 common viral and bacterial pathogens in Mexican Americans and recently succeeded in identifying a factor located in the HLA region of chromosome 6 that influences antibody titer levels to Epstein-Barr virus, which can lead to mononucleosis and more serious diseases such as several cancers, and which also may be critical for development of lupus.