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Gene study could bring medical advances

Last updated 05:00 04/04/2014

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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 project 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 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 of 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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- Auckland City Harbour News

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