‘Heart disease, AIDS, and Lupus no more?’

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Surely we’ve all seen the harm disease can cause, whether personally or through another. However, recent genetic advancements have discovered and isolated various genes that help fight deadly, and often fatal, diseases.

The Scripps Research Institute, a nonprofit biomedical research organization, discovered a mutation within their mice colony of a specific gene known as Coronin-1A (Coro1a) in the Asian macaque. The Coronin-1A gene helps regulate cell movement and structure in the cytoskeleton. Discovered on January 17th, 2008, “The mutation reduced symptoms of the disease by interfering with the development and activation of T cells and other immune responses,” said Dwight Kono. It is the first gene discovered capable of reducing the symptoms of Lupus.

On February 29, 2008, a gene named TRIM5-CypA was discovered at Harvard Medical School, producing effects that may block AIDS and other diseases within the family lentivirus. Surprisingly, this is the second gene known to have these abilities. TRIMCypa, the second AIDS resistant gene, was discovered in South America in 2004 within the genetic structure of owl monkeys.

Geneticist, taking in the possibilities, marveled at the second hybrid-gene combination of two different monkey species within the same family. The TRIM5 gene is not present in closely related species of the Asian macaque, just as the CYPA5 gene is not present in species closely related to owl monkeys. The arising question for many geneticists is – How can two different genes, from different species, combine?

The Answer? Most scientists agree on a process known as ‘Convergent Evolution’ in which the same gene is formed within different species for the same need. With further investigation into this, the idea of AIDS and the lentivirus inhabiting the planet long before humans, plaguing our primate predecessors, has become a very real and concerning possibility.

Most recently in gene discoveries, miR-21, a protein found in various mice heart-tissue samples. Failing hearts were found to have three to five times as many miR-21 proteins within the tissue. The greatest factor in the discovery namely being the ability to ‘silence’, or block, the protein from developing. The condition affects 23 million people a year, killing 600,000.

For the mice already with the human heart disease, an experimental compound, known as antagomir, improved symptoms, while the mice that received it never developed the condition. This is the first study to prove therapeutic efficacy in prevention of an animal model heart disease.

With new genetic advancements, comes new possible business ventures and monopolies over the genes. On October 23, 2008, Genetic Technologies Ltd based in Australia will be forcing all medical hospitals to cease testing for a genetic mutation that is known to cause breast cancer. Instead, it will have the testing redirected at its Melbourne laboratory at a price of $2,100.703

This raises serious questions as new, natural, genes are discovered and their exclusive patent rights bar others from the discovery and potential benefit. Most laboratories are privately funded with business prospects in mind before humane efforts, the patent process of natural genes would allow for them to gather funds based off what they have researched and produced, ensuring the progression of successful laboratories.

Medical adviser at the Cancer Council Australia Graeme Suthers called for the law to be revised. “As a society we have to bite that bullet,” he said. “It is essential that Australian families can access testing of genes (through public hospitals)”.

These are the first of many genetic discoveries that lead promise, hope, and change to many lives.

Chris Carucci, a Cooperstown, New York native is preparing to study as a geneticist in New Hampshire this coming spring. His fond interest in Health, World Events, Politics, Food – Wine, and Travel will eventually lead him to writing books.