Genomic Revolution

As medical science progresses, researchers are telling us more and more often that answers to many health problems and solutions lie in our genetic code.

Many studies published today are finding specific genes associated with various diseases and are touting the possibility of treatments targeted to each person's genetic make-up. But just how far along this path have we actually come? What do we really know about genetics and how is it affecting health care today?

About two years ago scientists completed the Human Genome Project - a massive undertaking that aimed to map out the three billion bases that make up the human genome.

These many bases are distributed over 46 chromosomes and tell the story of what differentiates a person from a butterfly and which characteristics each of us inherits.

During the course of the Human Genome Project, researchers were surprised to learn that although we have billions of possible combinations, people only have between 23,000 and 25,000 actual genes. Scientists were expecting to find more like 100,000 genes and were amazed that we only have about 10,000 more than fruit flies or worms.

Still, even with this number of genes, it was a major accomplishment to identify and map them all.

Of all the base pairs, only one and a half per cent are genes. We still don't know exactly what all that other DNA is doing. Some of it has to do with regulation of the genes, such as determining when and for how long the genes are active.

Even though all genes are present in every cell of the body, only about 10 per cent are expressed in most cells. Different genes, when they are activated, determine if a cell is a muscle cell, a liver cell or a skin cell and account for the different appearance and functions of each of our body's cells.

In the brain, researchers believe that about 50 per cent of our genes are expressed in about 100 different types of cells. Now that this is understood, we have to continue learning exactly how these are expressed so that we can determine how different brain cells function. Right now this is being worked out in the mouse brain.

Genes don't code for diseases, but rather for proteins. When someone has a disease that is predisposed by genetics there will be a difference in the amount, character or timing of protein synthesis. This might have to do with too much or too little of a receptor, an abnormal enzyme that works too well or not well enough or maybe the wrong timing of the production of certain proteins , which causes developmental problems.

When we understand how disease states differ from non-disease states in terms of genetics and their protein products, we will have potential targets for diagnosis and treatment.

Today, scientists have already come a fairly long way down this path for certain brain disorders. For example, specific genes have been identified in Alzheimer's Disease and specific new targets for therapeutic intervention have been identified.

As the science of genomics advances, we will be able to create more and more effective ways of treating many psychiatric and other conditions.

 

Current Studies

 Alzheimer's 

 Crohn's 

 Insomnia

 Migraine

 Narcolepsy

 Parkinson's 

  Ulcerative Colitis

 

 

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