VCU School of Pharmacy Center Attracts $4.5 Million Grant to Detect Schizophrenia Methylation Markers

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy’s Center for Biomarker Research and Personalized Medicine has received a $4.5 million “Grand Opportunities” grant to detect schizophrenia methylation markers that could lead to better drug therapies to fight the devastating mental health illness. 

The grant, called an RC2, was awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health through the 2009 American Recovery Reinvestment Act. Principal investigator is Edwin Van den Oord, Ph.D., a professor in the VCU School of Pharmacy and director of the school’s Center for Biomarker Research and Personalized Medicine.

“DNA methylation studies are really an exciting new direction in genetics,” he said.

DNA methylation is a process that changes how genes work through chemically modifying DNA. Methylation is directly related to gene expression and can shed a unique light on disease mechanisms. 

Methylation sites are also excellent new drug targets. And because methylation markers are accessible at the stable DNA level, they are potentially easy to use in clinical settings to improve diagnosis and individualize drug treatment. 

The first stage of the project involves a whole-genome search for methylation markers associated with schizophrenia, a devastating neuropsychiatric illness, Van den Oord said.

“To minimize false discoveries due to technical and sampling errors, the most promising methylation markers will be followed up in a second independent case-control sample using a different technology,” he said. Samples used in the project were collected at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

The RC2 is the largest ARRA research grant awarded to the university and comes on top of another ARRA grant awarded the center by the National Human Genome Research Institute for developing novel statistical methods to design biomarker studies in the most cost-effective way.

The Center for Biomarker Research and Personalized Medicine has been in operation since 2006. The center’s mission is to develop and apply novel methods to identify and use biomarkers that will improve understanding of disease and tailor medication use in patients to enhance efficacy and minimize toxicity.

Van den Oord will do the research with Karolina Aberg, Ph.D., and other members of his VCU School of Pharmacy research team.

For more on the center, including other current research, visit

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see

Edwin van den Oord, Ph.D.
Edwin van den Oord, Ph.D.