GeneAlert ... from UPI

By JOE GROSSMAN, UPI Science News  |  Nov. 15, 2002 at 10:00 AM
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The legal restrictions on some genetic tests are reducing their use and development, according to a new study done at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. About one-fourth of 122 diagnostic laboratory directors surveyed said they had stopped providing at least one genetic test for diseases such as breast cancer, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease and muscular dystrophy because of patent or licensing restrictions. About half of the directors said they would not research and develop specific tests because of the possibility of a patent or licence being awarded to someone else. "Lab directors are reluctant to develop a test if they think there's going to be a patent pending down the road," lead investigator Mildred Cho, acting co-director of Stanford's Center for Biomedical Ethics, told UPI's GeneAlert. High prices for tests and decreased ability to standardize results are some of the impacts of the tight controls, Cho said in a telephone call from Canberra, Australia, where she presented her findings last week at the 2002 conference on "Intellectual property and biotechnology: Access ownership and control."


Proteins produced by a gene called RhoGD12 might help prevent cancer from spreading, according to researchers at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville. They used advanced DNA technology to discover that low levels of RhoGDI2 activity were found more often in metastasized cancer than in localized cancer. "It is clear the gene plays a role in the cancer's lethal progression to metastasis and not in the initial formation of the cancer," said principal investigator Dan Theodorescu. "As such, it is one of only a handful of true metastasis suppressor genes known." If a diagnostic test could be developed for low levels of this protein, it could determine which cancers might spread, leading to individualized treatments, they said. If the gene could be stimulated in metastatic cancers -- using gene therapy or other approaches -- the technique could become a new cancer suppression therapy. The findings are published in the Nov. 15 issue of the journal Cancer Research.


The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued an optimistic press release on Nov. 13, headlined, "New HIV Vaccine Holds Promise of Global Effectiveness." The vaccine would rely heavily on combining material from genes in three different groups of human immunodeficiency virus, called clades. "This is the first multigene, multiclade HIV vaccine to enter human trials," said NIAID director Anthony S. Fauci. "It marks an important milestone in our search for a single vaccine that targets U.S. subtypes of HIV as well as clades causing the global epidemic," he said. It will be about a year before results of this small, 50-person safety trial are known, Gary Nabel, director of the NIAID vaccine research center told UPI's GeneAlert, and it will be 2007 -- at the very earliest -- before any vaccine could be available commercially.


A computer programmed to distinguish different types of amino acid sequences in genes is able to predict the severity of one resulting disease, chronic hemolytic anemia. "This is the first model-based system for predicting phenotype (function of the cell or organism) based on genotype (an individual's DNA)," the University of California, San Diego, announced in a prepared statement. The researchers inserted 150 different DNA sequences known to cause enzyme deficiencies in red blood cell metabolism into a computer model. The model then predicted accurately which mutations would result in chronic hemolytic anemia and which would cause a less severe version of the disease. "Eventually, there could be a kind of databank of specific genetic mutations that cause precise disease variants," said researcher Bernhard Palsson. "This could be incredibly useful for drug development and will aid physicians in creating effective treatment plans for individuals." The results are published in the November issue of the journal Genome Research.

(EDITORS: For more information on CANCER, contact Marguerite Beck 434-924-5679 or For HIV, Anne Oplinger 301-402-1663 or For TESTS, Mildred Cho 650-725-7993 or For COMPUTER, Denine Hagen 858-534-2920 or

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