Thursday, February 15, 2007

All diabetes, all the time   posted by p-ter @ 2/15/2007 06:01:00 PM

Keeping with the diabetes theme, the first genome-wide association study of Type II diabetes has been published, and it's extraordinarily promising. Besides picking up the oft-replicated TCF7L2 gene mentioned before, they pick up three other loci, including finding a non-synonymous mutations in a zinc transporter. That's notable because 1. non-synonymous mutations clearly can have phenotypic effects (there's no wondering, could this really do something?), and 2. drug targeting of zinc transport is feasible (TCF7L2 is a transcription factor, and when you start playing with transcription factors you risk messing with a lot of pathways). The news article accompanying this study has some good perspective:
In 1918, Ronald Aylmer Fisher, an evolutionary biologist and pioneer of modern statistics, published a paper on the genetic causes of disease that brought together two rival factions. Geneticists promoted a paradigm in which diseases worked a lot like Mendel's pea plants, with just one or two genes responsible for each condition. Biometricians, however, advocated a continuous distribution of phenotypes. Fisher suggested that many mendelian traits could result in the continuous distribution of a disease. In doing so, he established the conceptual basis for the search for complex disease genes that continues today.

But Fisher's theories had a more immediate impact on animals and agriculture than on medicine — in people, it's much easier to study and measure mendelian diseases and traits. Even the much-heralded Human Genome Project in the 1990s didn't help as much as expected.
It has taken time for big GWA studies to be completed. "Many people didn't know how much association studies would deliver," says Peter Donnelly, a lead investigator of the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium, which began collecting samples for GWA studies in 2005.

Yet new results, including a study on type 2 diabetes published this week, suggest that the GWA approach will bear fruit, and lots of it....Modern biology may finally have begun to bring technological and scientific rigour to Fisher's decades-old insights.

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