Gene research to improve development of new drugs

Tuesday, 19 February, 2002

Researchers at the ANU's Medical Genome Centre are researching a powerful new technique for developing drugs.

Dr Keats Nelms and collaborators at the Centre are investigating the use of genome-wide mutagenesis to identify the best genes to target for drug development.

Genome-wide mutagenesis enables scientists to look at disease in whole organisms — scanning tens of thousands of genes simultaneously.

It can also be used to determine what the effects of slight modifications, as well as the removal of genes, has on the organism.

"This makes it a very powerful technique because it captures greater detail about genes than previous techniques and also enables us to determine the function of target genes immediately," Dr Nelms said.

"This is a very important step because there are many thousands more genes scientists can analyse since the sequencing of the human genome was completed. With the increased knowledge of genes there is a greater choice of drug targets, but this also increases the chance for false starts in the development of new drugs against human disease."

Previous methods of analysing gene function have used isolated cell or tissue cultures, which then have to be translated to whole organisms — a process called validation.

Dr Nelms said genome-wide mutagenesis begins with the whole organism and therefore is a highly validated process.

Genome-wide mutagenesis is already starting to pay off as the ANU team has discovered new genes in areas previously investigated. "For example, the area for genes relating to obesity has been heavily explored and thought to be exhausted of gene targets.

"However with our technique we have found several more targets that could not have been found with traditional methods," Dr Nelms said. The researchers will continue their research in the new Australian Phenomics Facility to be established following an $11.5 million Major National Research Facility grant.

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