Faculty conversations: Debra and Brian Schutte
CoSAGE — an MSU research project focusing on the genetic causes of disease — is unique because of the partners involved in the project: Not only are the husband/wife team of Debra and Brian Schutte involved but also members from the community in which the project is based, who are equally active in the research.
“We’re working with the community in the early phases of this project to learn: What are the prevalent health problems in the community?” Debra Schutte said. “And what is of most concern to the members of the community?
“That will help us identify where to go next in our research.”
The purpose of the Community-based Cooperative for Studies Across Generations, or CoSAGE, is to study the genetic factors that cause common disease – particularly adult onset hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease, said Debra Schutte, an associate professor in the College of Nursing.
The mid-Michigan community they are working in was chosen because of their extensive genealogical records dating back to the original German settlers in the area, who came in the mid-1800s. These records have been compiled in a database that contains 28,000 people.
“It makes looking for genetic factors much more efficient,” said Brian Schutte, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and the Department of Pediatrics and Human Development.
Two community committees were established to guide the research: a research advisory committee and a research ethics committee. The members of the research advisory committee help communicate their ideas effectively to their family and friends and throughout the community.
“One of the things we’ve learned in three years is that we can talk to the community members for a long time and not have near as much impact as a talk over the fence between community members,” Brian Schutte said. “They’ve been very effective in getting the project moving.”
The research ethics committee examines the goals of the project and reviews its products such as grants or papers to ensure the approaches and methods being used are consistent with the values of the community.
A year ago, they started a community health assessment to get an overview of the health status of the community, the resources available and the needs of the community, Debra Schutte said.
They also are inviting community members to be participants in a research registry in which they collect information about individual and family health history, do a brief physical exam and obtain a blood sample to screen for glucose, complete blood count, cholesterol and triglycerides. The blood sample is also used as a DNA source to do genetic analysis in the future.
“That gives us some information we can use in our research, but it also allows us to give that information back to the participants,” Debra Schutte said. “We have a unique opportunity to both discover those hereditary or other factors that contribute to common diseases, and because we have this close partnership, be able to move really quickly into developing interventions that will improve the health for the community.”