Scientists have isolated at least 25 genes that cause seven of the most common hereditary diseases including diabetes and arthritis in the world’s largest genetic study.
The genes are responsible for heart disease, hypertension, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, bipolar disorder and rheumatoid arthritis, according to results published in the international science journal Nature. Another 58 genes with possible links to the same family diseases have also been uncovered by British and Australian scientists working on the $16.6 million study funded by the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium (WTCC). University of Queensland Professor Matthew Brown, one of the principal investigators, said the genetic signposts would allow researchers to pinpoint who was at most risk from the diseases and would also help produce better treatments. “Using genetic markers is far more accurate than just using family history,” Professor Brown, from UQ’s Diamantina Institute for Cancer, Immunology and Metabolic Medicine, said. “The family history doesn’t tell you which individual genes are involved so it doesn’t tell you anything about the mechanism by which these diseases occur.” Professor Brown said the study analysed 540,000 varying DNA sequences from each of the 19,000 Brits who took part in the study. The study was 10 times bigger than previous population genetics studies which had linked less than a dozen genes to the seven hereditary diseases. He said there were several population groups in Australia which could be used for similar studies but they needed large scale funding which was not available. “So far, Australia hasn’t done any of these studies because the NHMRC [National Health and Medical Research Council] doesn’t have a mechanism for funding them.” More study results will be released in August on the genetic makeup of breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune thyroid disease and ankylosing spondylitis. Professor Brown leads the Musculoskeletal Genetics Group at UQ’s Diamantina Institute and is an expert in rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, which is a type of inflammatory arthritis which stiffens joints and can damage the eyes and heart. All genetic data from the study will be available to researchers. “That’s a really important precedent because it makes it a huge resource for anyone researching these diseases, not just geneticists, but people who are researching any basic mechanism of these diseases.” UQ alumni and university medallist Professor Peter Donnelly, now a Professor of Statistical Genetics at Oxford University, leads the study project. (Source: Nature : University of Queensland : July 2007)