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Indian-American scientist discovers 10 new lupus genes

world Updated: Jan 26, 2016 12:35 IST
Indian American scientist

Swapan Nath and his colleagues analysed more than 17,000 human DNA samples collected from blood gathered from volunteers in four countries. (Picture courtesy: OMRF website)

An international team led by an Indian-American scientist has identified 10 new genes associated with the autoimmune disease lupus -- a debilitating condition where the body’s immune system becomes unbalanced and attacks its own tissues.

Swapan Nath, a scientist with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), and colleagues analysed more than 17,000 human DNA samples collected from blood gathered from volunteers in four countries -- South Korea, China, Malaysia and Japan.

Of those samples, nearly 4,500 had confirmed cases of lupus, while the rest served as healthy controls for the research.

“We know lupus has a strong genetic basis but in order to better treat the disease, we have to identify those genes,” said Nath.

From that analysis, the researchers identified 10 distinct DNA sequence variants linked to lupus.

The disease affects nearly five million people worldwide, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.

“These findings mark a significant advance in our knowledge base for lupus genes,” said Judith James, director of OMRF’s Autoimmune Disease Institute.

“For every gene we identify, it brings us closer to uncovering the trigger for this puzzling disease. It’s good news for researchers and patients alike,” he added.

In the study, one gene in particular, known as GTF2I, showed a high likelihood of being involved in the development of lupus.

“Its genetic effect appears to be higher than previously known lupus genes discovered from Asians, and we surmise that it now may be the predominant gene involved in lupus,” Nath noted in a paper published in the journal Nature Genetics.

The ultimate goal, said Nath, is to understand the disease better and develop personalised intervention therapies for patients based on their genetic makeup.