December 2nd, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Vitamin D is especially active in areas of the human genome related to autoimmune diseases, providing yet more evidence that the vitamin plays a critical role in regulating the immune system and protecting against certain diseases.
In a study published in the journal Genome Research, researchers from Oxford University mapped the human genome looking for clusters of vitamin D receptors — sites where the vitamin can bind to DNA, changing the expression of a gene. They found that these receptors were especially common in regions that have previously been linked to common autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. Vitamin D receptors were also common in regions linked to colorectal cancer and leukemia.
The study shows how serious the effects of vitamin D deficiency can be, the researchers noted.
Scientists have long known that vitamin D plays an essential role in maintaining healthy teeth and bones, but only recently has the vitamin’s role in immune regulation started to become clear.
“The benefits of vitamin D include a reduction in the risk of colon polyps and prostate cancer, less coronary artery disease, and a decreased chance of developing type 1 diabetes, plus increased muscle strength and coordination, along with higher bone strength,” writes Phyllis A. Balch in her book Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 4th Edition.
The best source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. In only a fraction of the time it takes to burn, the body can produce up to 10,000 IU of the vitamin — as little as 15 minutes per day for light-skinned people and as much as three times that for people with much darker skin.
Sunscreen blocks the ultraviolet radiation that the body needs to synthesize vitamin D.
October 7th, 2010
By: Eva von Schaper
Novartis AG agreed to use technology from Synthetic Genomics Vaccines Inc., a company run by genome pioneer Craig Venter, in an effort to cut the time needed to develop influenza shots.
Novartis and San Diego-based Synthetic Genomic Vaccines will work together to create so-called seed viruses, templates from which large amounts of vaccine are created, Novartis said in a statement today. Novartis hopes to reduce the time needed to start vaccine output by two months, which is critical in the case of a flu pandemic, the company said.
“There is always the risk a of pandemic,” Rino Rappuoli, who heads vaccine research at Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis, said in a telephone interview today. The company produced enough vaccine only after the peak of the flu pandemic was over last year, Rappuoli said.
The companies agreed to a three-year collaboration, according to the statement. The work is supported by the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the government agency that oversees vaccine and drug development for public-health emergencies.
Vaccine manufacturers rely on the World Health Organization to identify and distribute live reference viruses to create seasonal or pandemic shots. Novartis and Synthetic Genomics will work to develop a bank of synthetically constructed seed viruses ready to go into production as soon as WHO identifies a new flu strain, the company said.
“We will have all the pieces ready to go, and on the day we will just push the button,” Rappuoli said.
The bank could be ready as early as next year, Rappuoli said. While Novartis is concentrating on a pandemic flu shot, the collaboration may also benefit its seasonal flu program, according to Siena-based Rappuoli.
Venter is best known for his privately backed race in 2000 against the publicly funded Human Genome Project to decode the entire human genetic blueprint. The teams shared credit for the milestone. This year, researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, reported that they made a copy of a bacterium’s entire genome and then transplanted it into a related organism, where it functioned normally.
Synthetic Genomics Vaccines was created by the not-for- profit Venter institute and Synthetic Genomics Inc., a company Venter founded in 2005. Investors in Synthetic Genomics Inc. include BP Plc and the venture-capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.
October 7th, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Ten years ago, President Bill Clinton announced that the complete human genome had been successfully mapped, and Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health predicted genetic diagnosis of disease within a decade.
“Over the longer term, perhaps in another 15 or 20 years,” Collins said then, “you will see a complete transformation in therapeutic medicine.”
Yet 10 years later, genetic diagnosis of disease remains a distant dream, and many of the supposed genetic predictors of disease risk are being debunked one by one.
After the mapping of the genome, the National Institutes of Health initiated a $138 million project to map all the common gene variants among people of African, European and East Asian descent. The underlying theory was that because diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease are so common, the gene variants that contribute to them should be common as well. Once these sites had all been mapped, researchers proceeded to test for correlations between given variants and common diseases.
By 2009, 400 different variants had been linked with various diseases; today, the number is 850. Yet studies are now showing that these variants explain very little of the genetic component of disease risk.
One recent study, conducted by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 101 different gene variants linked to heart disease risk had precisely zero predictive benefit in 19,000 women over the course of 12 years. In contrast, a traditional family history survey was significantly predictive.
Part of the problem, researchers say, is that the genetic contribution to disease now appears to come from a larger number of more rare variants, rather than a few common ones as previously thought. In addition, many common diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease are far more influenced by environmental than by genetic factors.
“Genomics is a way to do science, not medicine,” incoming National Cancer Institute president Harold Varmus said.
November 06, 2009
DNA sequencing can shows illnesses you’re predisposed to contract or let doctors tailor medicines just for you. Someday it will be a cheap, routine part of medical care. That day just got closer.
The price of DNA sequencing has been steadily falling since the Human Genome Project finished deciphering a complete human genome for $2.7 billion in 2003. Complete Genomics, a biotech company in Mountain View, Calif., has now delivered on a promise it made in Feb. 2009 to read an individual human genome for less than the cost of a used car — around $4,400.
“We’ve ended up with a cost of sequencing that’s ten times less than anyone else’s,” said Clifford Reid, president of Mountain View’s Complete Genomics.
Reid credits two techniques — described in the latest issue of the journal Science — for the cost savings: the ability to pack DNA tightly together to use lower amounts of expensive chemicals and a new way of quickly reading the A’s, G’s, C’s and T’s that spell out our genetic code.
Like existing technologies, the new technique is not perfectly accurate. It makes about 30,000 mistakes as it reads through the 3 billion letters in the human genome. This error rate, not quite good enough for clinical applications in individual patients, is sufficient for scientists looking for genetic differences among large groups of people that might shed light on diseases such as cancer.
Between March and Sept., Complete Genomics sequenced the genomes of 14 people. The Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Wash., has hired the company to sequence 100 human genomes for a study of Huntington’s disease.