Genes and disease

News reports today detail the discovery of genetic regions that contribute to the risk of developing seven of the Western World's common diseases.
13 June 2007

News reports today detail the discovery of genetic regions that contribute to the risk of developing seven of the Western World's common diseases (type 1 & type 2 diabetes, bipolar disorder, coronary artery disease, Crohn's disease, hypertension, and rheumatoid arthritis).

For the first time since the sequencing of the human genome, hundreds of British researchers have pooled their diverse expertise and resources in order to find new clues as to what gene variations are associated with disease.

Garvan's Dr Vanessa Hayes, says: "The scientists make use of major technological advances that allow them to scroll through the many volumes of our genetic code in a relatively fast and cost effective way in order to pick up regions of our genome that contain variations that can make us more likely to develop one of these common diseases. Indeed, they have done that on a grand scale and, surprisingly, have found some variations that are common to more than one disease".

The implication of the British research, published today in the scientific journal Nature, is that it will enable Garvan scientists who work on many of these same diseases to cross reference their own work and it may help lead them in new directions in their quest to find the genetic basis of disease.

An analogy for the finding gene regions associated with a disease is finding accident blackspots on the road between Sydney and Melbourne.

"Previously we would have just looked at the main interstate road", explains Hayes, "and then tried to narrow the location of blackspots down into 100km, then 10km sections of road. Eventually we might have found two markers (or South Sydney suburbs) between which many accidents take place. The type of genetic technology used today means that every possible route between Syney and Melbourne can be analysed for accident blackspots - that's essentially what this paper is saying about finding genetic variations linked with disease".

"However, just because a particularly bad blockspot has been identified doesn't mean you will have an accident there. Environmental factors such as wet roads or bad brakes will influence the outcome", added Hayes.

The next step for researchers is to work out exactly how the genes and gene regions linked to the seven diseases have an effect at the biological level.

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