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BC scientists link to European Consortium studying human genome

Fri, 05/06/2011 - 3:56am
EurekAlert

Vancouver, BC Local scientists are now part of an International team compiling an enormous bank of resources for research into the functions of all known genes. The development of these biological resources will eventually allow scientists to know how the human genome behaves in health and disease. The BC focus is neurological, including the brain, eye, and spinal cord, and encompassing such disorders as Parkinson and Alzheimer Disease.

The project, known as CanEuCre, is led by Dr. Elizabeth M. Simpson, a Principal Investigator at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics, and Senior Scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute. "This is a 'tools' project," says Dr. Simpson. "It will put in the hands of scientists worldwide the tools needed to explore what every gene in the genome does, both under normal circumstances, and when diseased."

As a result of BC's investment and its world-renowned expertise in neurological genomics, Dr. Simpson and her team have joined Phase II of this international study, which involves developing tools to discover the function of mutant genes in the mouse genome.

The goal of this project is to build the tools to make findings about the pathogenesis and mechanisms of major human diseases easier. "BC's strong foundation in functional genomics has brought BC scientists to the forefront internationally with this project. The goal is that, when the project concludes in three years' time, the tools will be there for others to use in the application of true bench-to-bedside work," says Simpson.

The EUCOMMTOOLS branch of the project has attracted over 12 million euros in funding from the European Commission as part of its Framework Programme for Research and Technology Development. Genome BC is contributing an additional $2 million in funding through the CanEuCre project. Identified through the first phase of CanEuCre was the need for an even larger collaborative effort to identify the fundamental underlying cause of human disease and role that genes play.

It is understood that diseases can arise as a result of alteration in genes that affect activity within the cell. Disease states can be modeled by using the "cre-recombinase" (Cre) to induce the specific transformation of genes from the "normal" to the "mutant" state. But, for Cre to work and create the change, it must be expressed in the appropriate cell types at the correct time during development.

Unfortunately, there is a critical shortage of Cre resources needed to perform these types of studies. This new international project will create more mutant genes, and will also address the shortage of Cre resources. EU scientists will create Cre resources for a wide variety of organs, while BC scientists will create resources for the brain, eye, and spinal cord, adding to and building on the province's existing strengths.

This project may ultimately generate advances in medical therapy for a host of neurological conditions. This invaluable information will not only speed up research and discovery, both academically and commercially, but also draws investment to and stimulates commercial activities in British Columbia.

"Not only is this project a showcase for British Columbia's brain research expertise, but a major international collaboration that really demonstrates the generosity and enthusiasm of researchers around the globe. The outcomes of this project will be truly internationally available enabling tools and we are very proud to play an important role in their development" says Dr. Alan Winter, President & CEO of Genome BC.

Genome BC has funded this project as part of its Applied Genomics Consortium Program, which brings together national and international consortia, funding partners and industry and will provide an opportunity to fund projects that will have a significant impact on strategic sectors of British Columbia's economy.

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