Gene study could bring med­i­cal ad­vances

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

A four-year global study has started to un­lock the mys­tery of why hu­man cells act dif­fer­ently, which could lead to break­throughs in fight­ing dis­eases like cancer and alzheimers.

Dr Se­bas­tian Sch­meier, Massey Univer­sity Al­bany lec­turer in bioin­for­mat­ics and ge­nomics, is part of a 250-strong team of re­searchers from 100 in­sti­tutes around the world work­ing on the called FANTOM5.

The Pon­sonby res­i­dent says dif­fer­ent types of brain and fat cells turn dif­fer­ent genes on and off.

Un­der­stand­ing just why genes are on or off in a par­tic­u­lar type of cell is a mys­tery he and col­leagues are work­ing to un­der­stand.

‘‘All cells have the same genome ... but why is it that cer­tain cells act

project dif­fer­ently? Once we know how to turn on and off dif­fer­ent genes . . . this has a huge in­flu­ence of all kinds of dis­eases like cancer, obe­sity and alzheimers.

‘‘If you know how these genes are ex­press­ing and how they’re con­trolled, that’s what will help a lot in help­ing you fight your dis­eases.

‘‘We iden­ti­fied for the first time the ma­jor­ity of genes in the ma­jor­ity hu­man cell types.’’

Sch­meier says many dis­eases re­sult from genes be­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ately turned on or off.

‘‘Iden­ti­fy­ing the re­gions that con­trol these de­ci­sions will al­low us to un­der­stand why this hap­pens.’’

A re­port of the first stage of the con­tin­u­ing work has been pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture.

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Dr Se­bas­tian Sch­meier

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