genetics

In the early 1980s, Mary Ann Tellas was majoring in biology at Indiana University, and for the first time, she had a class taught by a Black professor.

As a young Black woman, Tellas says having a professor of her own race gave her the confidence to speak up in class and pursue a career in science. Now, she's a high school biology teacher in Indianapolis.

"I always felt as though, gosh, you know, there's nobody like me in my classes. Nobody looks like me," Tellas says. "I don't want to say it changed my life, but it did give me some perspective."

Health researchers in Indiana are knocking on doors to collect surveys – and DNA samples. A growing number of studies factor in zip code when considering health outcomes.

Genetics researchers often discover certain snips and pieces of the human genome that are important for health and development, such as the genetic mutations that cause cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. And scientists noticed that genetic variants are more common in some races, which makes it seem like race is important in genetics research.

A mannequin on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC
greyloch via flickr/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

If you wear eye glasses or contact lenses, chances are they’ve been specially calibrated to your unique set of eyes. If you’ve ever received a transfusion, you’ve (hopefully!) received blood from a donor with a compatible blood type. So why not cancer and diabetes treatments that are specific to individual patients’ bodies?

vials containing DNA
igemhq via Flickr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

President Obama recently asked Congress for $215 million for an initiative to collect genetic information and combine it with health data with the goal of creating treatments tailored to individuals – or precision medicine. The proposal has bipartisan traction, and is expected to be one part of the President’s $4 trillion budget that's likely to pass in both houses. 

In a darkened lab in the north of England, a research associate is intensely focused on the microscope in front of her. She carefully maneuvers a long glass tube that she uses to manipulate early human embryos.

"It's like microsurgery," says Laura Irving of Newcastle University.

Irving is part of a team of scientists trying to replace defective DNA with healthy DNA. They hope this procedure could one day help women who are carrying genetic disorders have healthy children.

When a man shows up in her office with a broken wrist, Dr. Tamara Rozental will often suggest that he get his bone density checked for osteoporosis. She often gets a blank stare back.

"I may order the bone density scan and tell them they should get it, but many of my patients don't do it," Rozental, an orthopedic surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says.

Thyroid Cancer Genome Analysis Finds Markers Of Aggressive Tumors

Oct 24, 2014
University of Michigan Health System

A new comprehensive analysis of thyroid cancer from The Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network has identified markers of aggressive tumors, which could allow for better targeting of appropriate treatments to individual patients.

The finding suggests the potential to reclassify the disease based on genetic markers and moves thyroid 

cancer into a position to benefit more from precision medicine.

Gene Protects Teens From Alcohol Problems But Not If They Drink With Friends

Sep 24, 2014
Christian Senger/Flickr.com

Among more than 1,500 adolescents who had consumed at least one drink before age 18, researchers have found that although a gene variant prevents some young drinkers from developing alcohol problems, the gene’s protective effects can vanish in the presence of other teens who drink.

The study, by investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is published online Sept. 23 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Blocking a single gene that is active in the brain could provide a means to lessen behavioral problems among children with a common genetic disease, many of whom are also diagnosed with an autism disorder, according to researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

The genetic disorder, neurofibromatosis type 1, is one of the most common single-gene diseases, affecting about 1 in 3,000 children worldwide. Symptoms can range from café-au-lait spots on the skin to tumors that are disfiguring or that can press dangerously against internal organs.

Schizophrenia Not A Single Disease But Multiple Genetically Distinct Disorders

Sep 15, 2014

New research shows that schizophrenia isn’t a single disease but a group of eight genetically distinct disorders, each with its own set of symptoms. The finding could be a first step toward improved diagnosis and treatment for the debilitating psychiatric illness.

The research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is reported online Sept. 15 in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode From Curiosity To Discovery.

About Wendy Chung's TED Talk

Geneticist Wendy Chung describes what it's like to chip away at the mysteries of autism, and the excitement of uncovering tiny but critical clues.

About Wendy Chung

Primary Care Doctors Reluctant To Provide Genetics Assessment In Routine Care

Sep 12, 2014
University of Michigan Health System

Primary care providers (PCPs) report many challenges to integrating genetics services into routine primary care, according to research published today in Genetics in Medicine.

Basic biology has it that girls are girls because they have two X chromosomes — the things inside cells that carry our genes. Boys are boys because they have one X and one Y. Recently, though, there's been a lot of debate in scientific circles about the fate of that Y chromosome — the genetic basis of maleness.

People often talk about how their friends feel like family. Well, there's some new research out that suggests there's more to that than just a feeling. People appear to be more like their friends genetically than they are to strangers, the research found.

Ed Uthman/Flickr.com

Indiana University cancer researchers are targeting genetic errors as they mold personalized treatment for patients with triple-negative breast cancer. Dr. Bryan Schneider, an associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center and medical oncologist, is leading the study. 

Scientists from many areas of biology are flocking to a technique that allows them to work inside cells, making changes in specific genes far faster — and for far less money — than ever before.

Health Impact Assessments

Jun 2, 2014