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Courtney Gray-McGuire, Ph.D.

Photo of Courtney Gray-McGuire, Ph.D.
Courtney Gray-McGuire, Ph.D.
Assistant Member, Oklahoma Research Foundation, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
African American Sarcoidosis Genetics Resource

Administered by the NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases, Lung Biology and Disease Branch
FY 2009 Recovery Act Funding: $1,700,000

Research Focus: Sarcoidosis is a rare disease that causes inflammation in various parts of the body, most often in the lungs, skin, and lymph nodes. Immune cells that normally protect organs by fighting off invaders instead clump together into granulomas.

Courtney Gray-McGuire, Ph.D., wants to find genes that contribute to sarcoidosis and other immune disorders. The more she and other researchers understand about "why the body's brilliantly designed immune system sometimes overacts to result in diseases" like sarcoidosis, the better able they will be to find treatments for those diseases.

The causes of sarcoidosis aren't yet fully understood, but researchers suspect that some people are genetically susceptible to developing the disease. A large number of sarcoidosis patients are African-American. However, no one has yet collected genetic information from this group to study.

Grant Close Up: With a Recovery Act Grand Opportunity grant from the NHLBI, Dr. Gray-McGuire is performing the first genome-wide association study in African-American sarcoidosis patients.

Dr. Gray-McGuire - a genetic and molecular epidemiologist at Case Western Reserve University - gathered genetic samples that had already been collected from nearly 3,000 sarcoidosis patients, family members, and healthy controls. Using the most comprehensive genome-scanning technology developed for African Americans, she will look for individual genes and areas of the genome that seem to be associated with sarcoidosis.

Then she will develop a database and statistical tool that will allow researchers to scrutinize the information she gathers, compare it to existing data on sarcoidosis and African-American population genetics, and begin identifying the genes that may affect who develops the disease.

"The database resource will allow our field to take the next step beyond association," said Dr. Gray-McGuire. "Our project will fast-forward sarcoidosis genetics research - and likely also research into other granulomatous and inflammatory disorders - by finding associated genetic variants, and by helping researchers document their effects using related statistical, genetics and genomics data."

Not only will the results of her study help sarcoidosis researchers narrow down which genes to focus on, but Dr. Gray-McGuire also plans to trace the origins of the genetic variations she finds back through her patient population based on the ancestry data she has also collected.

"The discoveries we make will birth many follow-up studies," she said, stimulating sarcoidosis research for years to come.

Economic Impact: To conduct her research, Dr. Gray-McGuire is buying over $2 million in domestically produced equipment and services. The Recovery Act funds have also allowed her to create and retain several biotech and administrative jobs.

A Personality for Science: "I am a problem-solver by nature and love the creative process that goes into approaching age-old questions with modern methods and tools," said Dr. Gray-McGuire. "I was always interested in the mystery of life and found biology fascinating."

Finding her Path: "I had a wonderful professor of genetics as an undergraduate who fostered my interest in the field, but getting a job with a research program in genetics immediately after obtaining my bachelor's degree is what truly 'sealed' my fate," said Dr. Gray-McGuire.

Outside the Lab: "I am first and foremost a busy mom of three wonderful boys. I am also an avid runner and a vocalist," said Dr. Gray-McGuire. She will soon be trying her hand at music composition, writing a piece for a string quartet through a project sponsored by the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

By Stephanie Dutchen

Last Updated:August 10, 2010

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