GREENWOOD — Clemson University and Greenwood Genetic Center scientists are collaborating on autism and cancer research as part of their new partnership.

Clemson health-care genetics expert Julia Eggert will focus on breast cancer screening for South Carolina women, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics. Clinical geneticist Dr. Luigi Boccuto of Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC) will target body chemistry to test for autism.

Clemson-Greenwood Genetic Center researchers studying autism and cancer.

Clemson-Greenwood Genetic Center researchers are studying autism and cancer.

Eggert and Boccuto discussed their projects at the first gathering of Clemson University and Greenwood Genetic Center scientists collaborating on the research. The meeting in Greenwood was part science briefing, part financial report and part reality check.

In February, Self Regional Healthcare (SRHC) announced a partnership with Clemson and the genetic center to serve as the lead hospital partner in the collaborative research program. The hospital pledged a total of $5.6 million for the effort, including $1.2 million per year for three years to fund collaborative, problem-oriented genetic research.

Eggert and Boccuto are two of the recipients of the first round of funding, announced in June. Five projects focus on understanding and treating autism spectrum disorders; one other proposal seeks to improve diagnostics for acquired and hereditary cancers.

The science may be about genes, cells and molecules, but it takes labs, equipment, people and cash to get going.

Funding will be available in October, said Steve Kresovich, director of Clemson’s Institute for Translational Genomics. He oversees the collaborative research program. Kresovich reminded the scientists “that with big money comes big expectations.” The researchers’ technical progress and deliverables will be evaluated yearly to maintain funding.

The project is an ambitious initiative to set South Carolina as a big pin on the genetic health-care map. It is expected to spur development of a regional research hub for human genetics research and clinical activities and provide unique training opportunities for students, according to Dr. Steve Skinner, genetic center director.

“I’ve been at Greenwood since the 1987 and this is a new chapter between Clemson and the GGC,” Skinner said. “It links research, clinical, diagnostic and educational resources to solve significant problems in human health while building new economic opportunities.”

Each project includes team members from both Clemson and Greenwood Genetic Center:

  • Modi Wetzler from Clemson’s chemistry department will work on developing unique, chemical therapies for autism patients who have a specific, known genetic mutation.
  • L.J. Wang from Clemson’s genetics and biochemistry department will work to identify genetic changes across the genome that are associated with autism spectrum disorders.
  • Charles Schwartz, GGC’s director of research, will develop and analyze stem cells and neuronal cells to better understand their impact on autism.
  • Boccuto, assistant research scientist at GGC, will study tryptophan metabolism, expanding on his work to understand the biochemical basis of autism.
  • Anand Srivastava, GGC’s associate director of research, will investigate genetic and metabolic targets for autism treatment.
  • Eggert from the Clemson University School of Nursing and Alka Chaubey, GGC’s Cytogenetics Laboratory director, combined their proposals to explore the use of new technology to identify genetic mutations in oncology patients.

“The blending of research teams from both Clemson and GGC will allow our institutions to build on the strengths of one another,” said Skinner. “Self Regional’s commitment to supporting these endeavors is a vital part of understanding, and ultimately treating, disorders like autism and cancer that impact so many families.”