The Doctors Next Door

Genetic Breakthroughs: Alzheimer's, Cancer and Hedgehogs

In recent weeks we've heard exciting news of genetic breakthroughs that can lead to real progress in our fight against cancer and Alzheimer's disease. In those pursuits, some very sophisticated nerdy types observed that fly embryos who had a genetic pathway disrupted looked sorta like hedgehogs.

 I tried to find a picture of these fruitflies so you could assess the resemblance for yourself but it seems they're a little shy so no photos could be surfaced. Regardless of whether there's a real resemblance or that geneticist nerd was just affected by a Cheetoe's smear on his coke bottle glasses, we have the Hedgehog pathway.  Some even more roudy researcher went on to name a similar pathway the Sonic Hedgehog. 

sonic Hedgehog.jpg

Those researchers know how to live it up! These events would be the origin of that fleeting bumper-sticker craze: Researchers Make Great Lab Dancers. You may never have in fact been aware of this craze because the researchers soon got in their own way with the results of this University of Colorado study that showed people with bumper stickers were prone to road rage.  It turns out that bumper stickers serve as territory markers and thus a strong predictor of road rage. 

The raucous researchers felt they may have crossed the line with their bumper sticker fun and backed off. While the value of the study was widely questioned, the findings led to another great research triumph which was a vital necessity in the bumper sticker removal process that swept the nation in the wake of this research.














But I digress.  And I could do so further by telling you about my dark undergraduate days anesthetisizing fruitflies. I tried really hard to impersonate a researcher but couldn't get the tape to stay stuck on my glasses and the pocket protector didn't fit properly into my little Dior pocket.  And I never saw a hedgehog under my microscope...

but ANY-WHO...

What you came here to read about were these recent genetic breakthroughs.  Ever since the mapping of the human genome, we've seen more of these and will continue to do so.

There's this compound known as GDC-0449 that is designed to inhibit the famed Hedgehog signaling pathway. The pathway was originally named for the oblong hedgehog like shape of fly embryos when a key gene in the pathway is disrupted. (I'm quite certain that I had something to do with advancing this science via my fruitfly fling.) So the Hedgehog pathway controls cell growth, a process that goes haywire in the case of cancer. Phase one clinical trials are still underway which usually means that widespread application is at least a few years away. Nonetheless, it's a potentially fabulous breakthrough in the journey toward more cures for cancer. Here's a description of the research from Dr. Nelson (no relation) at Johns Hopkins.

So what about the Alzheimer's disease breakthrough? No fruitflies were found in the research labs in France and the United Kingdom where this work was conducted. I suspect that's because, upon a Raid,  the following fruitfly contraband was discovered.



                                                    Flypaper Beaucoups

Something my college geneticist professor, Dr. Sydney Mittler, would have screeched over. The geneticists in these labs found a mutant gene that could account for up to a quarter of cases of Alzheimer's. Ultimately this could lead to genetic testing and gene therapy to prevent the disease from occuring.   As Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society charity, puts it: "...the causes of Alzheimer's disease [are] likely to be a mixture of genes, lifestyle and life events. Most importantly [these breakthroughs] could lead to new drug treatments."   This research positions our future science well for understanding how to prevent and stop the progression of this devastating condition.

For now I'll leave you with a story of great genius in this entertaining video by Dr. James Watson, one of the discoverers of the structure of DNA. 

Coming soon: What does Dr. James Watson have to say about
the meaning of your dreams??


DNA Double Helix Model.jpg

DNA Double Helix Interactive Structure-- Berkeley, California






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1 Comment

hcp28 said:

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Great news of genetic breakthroughs that can lead to real progress in our fight against cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
The Alzheimer's disease is generated due to a mixture of genes, lifestyle and life events. If any person has some symptoms of Alzheimer's then their children also has great chances of getting suffered with it.

Thanks for sharing this useful information.

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