Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Journal Article] Novel Genetic Patterns May Make Us Rethink Biology and Individuality

From the 7 November 2013 ScienceDaily article

Professor of Genetics Scott Williams, PhD, of the Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Sciences (iQBS) at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, has made two novel discoveries: first, a person can have several DNA mutations in parts of their body, with their original DNA in the rest — resulting in several different genotypes in one individual — and second, some of the same genetic mutations occur in unrelated people. We think of each person’s DNA as unique, so if an individual can have more than one genotype, this may alter our very concept of what it means to be a human, and impact how we think about using forensic or criminal DNA analysis, paternity testing, prenatal testing, or genetic screening for breast cancer risk, for example. Williams’ surprising results indicate that genetic mutations do not always happen purely at random, as scientists have previously thought.

His work, done in collaboration with Professor of Genetics Jason Moore, PhD, and colleagues at Vanderbilt University, was published in PLOS Genetics journal on November 7, 2013.

Genetic mutations can occur in the cells that are passed on from parent to child and may cause birth defects. Other genetic mutations occur after an egg is fertilized, throughout childhood or adult life, after people are exposed to sunlight, radiation, carcinogenic chemicals, viruses, or other items that can damage DNA. These later or “somatic” mutations do not affect sperm or egg cells, so they are not inherited from parents or passed down to children. Somatic mutations can cause cancer or other diseases, but do not always do so. However, if the mutated cell continues to divide, the person can develop tissue, or a part thereof, with a different DNA sequence from the rest of his or her body.

….

f our human DNA changes, or mutates, in patterns, rather than randomly; if such mutations “match” among unrelated people; or if genetic changes happen only in part of the body of one individual, what does this mean for our understanding of what it means to be human? How may it impact our medical care, cancer screening, or treatment of disease? We don’t yet know, but ongoing research may help reveal the answers.

Christopher Amos, PhD, Director of the Center for Genomic Medicine and Associate Director for Population Sciences at the Cancer Center, says, “This paper identifies mutations that develop in multiple tissues, and provides novel insights that are relevant to aging. Mutations are noticed in several tissues in common across individuals, and the aging process is the most likely contributor. The theory would be that selected mutations confer a selective advantage to mitochondria, and these accumulate as we age.” Amos, who is also a Professor of Community and Family Medicine at Geisel, says, “To confirm whether aging is to blame, we would need to study tissues from multiple individuals at different ages.” Williams concurs, saying, “Clearly these do accumulate with age, but how and why is unknown — and needs to be determined.”

Just as our bodies’ immune systems have evolved to fight disease, interestingly, they can also stave off the effects of some genetic mutations. Williams states that, “Most genetic changes don’t cause disease, and if they did, we’d be in big trouble. Fortunately, it appears our systems filter a lot of that out.”

Mark Israel, MD, Director of Norris Cotton Cancer Center and Professor of Pediatrics and Genetics at Geisel, says, “The fact that somatic mutation occurs in mitochondrial DNA apparently non-randomly provides a new working hypothesis for the rest of the genome. If this non-randomness is general, it may affect cancer risks in ways we could not have previously predicted. This can have real impact in understanding and changing disease susceptibility.”

 

 

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genetic sequencing alone doesn’t offer a true picture of human disease

Genetic sequencing alone doesn’t offer a true picture of human disease

From the January 23 Eureka news alert

DURHAM, N.C. – Despite what you might have heard, genetic sequencing alone is not enough to understand human disease. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have shown that functional tests are absolutely necessary to understand the biological relevance of the results of sequencing studies as they relate to disease, using a suite of diseases known as the ciliopathies which can cause patients to have many different traits.

“Right now the paradigm is to sequence a number of patients and see what may be there in terms of variants,” said Nicholas Katsanis, Ph.D. “The key finding of this study says that this approach is important, but not sufficient. If you really want to be able to penetrate, you must have a robust way to test the functional relevance of mutations you find in patients. For a person at risk of type 2 diabetes, schizophrenia or atherosclerosis, getting their genome sequenced is not enough – you have to functionally interpret the data to get a sense of what might happen to the particular patient.”

“This is the message to people doing medical genomics,” said lead author Erica Davis, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Duke Department of Pediatrics, who works in the Duke Center for Human Disease Modeling. “We have to know the extent to which gene variants in question are detrimental – how do they affect individual cells or organs and what is the result on human development or disease? Every patient has his or her own set of genetic variants, and most of these will not be found at sufficient frequency in the general population so that anyone could make a clear medical statement about their case.”

Davis, working in the lab of Katsanis, and in collaboration with many ciliopathy labs worldwide, sequenced a gene, TTC21B, known to be a critical component of the primary cilium, an antenna-like projection critical to cell function.

While a few of the mutations could readily be shown to cause two main human disorders, a kidney disease and an asphyxiating thoracic condition, the significance of the majority of DNA variants could not be determined. Davis then tested these variants in a zebrafish model, in which many genes are similar to humans, and showed that TTC21B appears to contribute disease-related mutations to about 5 percent of human ciliopathy cases.

The study, which appears in Nature Genetics online on Jan. 23, shows how genetic variations both can cause ciliopathies and also interact with other disease-causing genes to yield very different sets of patient problems.

Katsanis, the Jean and George Brumley Jr., M.D., Professor of Pediatrics and Cell Biology, and Director of the Duke Center for Human Disease Modeling, is a world expert in ciliopathies such as Bardet-Biedl Syndrome, in which the primary cilium of cells is abnormal and leads to a host of problems. About one child in 1,000 live births will have a ciliopathy, an incidence that is in the range of Down’s syndrome, said Katsanis.

“By sequencing genes to identify genetic variation, followed by functional studies with a good experimental model, we can get a much better idea of the architecture of complex, inherited disorders,” Katsanis said. “Each individual with a disease is unique,” Davis said. “If you can overlay gene sequencing with functional information, then you will be able to increase the fidelity of your findings and it will become more meaningful for patients and families.”

It will take more laboratories doing more pointed studies like this one to get a fuller picture of the ciliopathies and other diseases, Davis said.

Katsanis noted that it will take true collaboration within many scientific disciplines as well as scientific finesse to get at the true roots of complex diseases.

“Brute force alone – sequencing – will not help,” he said. “Technology is of finite resolution. You must have synthesis of physiology, cell biology, biochemistry and other fields to get true penetration into medically relevant information.”

January 24, 2011 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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