Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Symposium to Feature Leaders in Genetics

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Symposium to Feature Leaders in Genetics

Article excerpt

It was back around the turn of the century that Sir Archibald Garrod of England observed patients who had defects and related parents.

He learned these conditions could be explained if the defects were inherited as recessive conditions. In 1909, he named the diseases "Inborn Errors of Metabolism."

That was the beginning of human biochemical genetics, which have been developed by great minds of science, chemistry and medicine over the last eight to nine decades.

Today, genetics research has reached the stage of genetic pharmacology _ producing drugs to "ameliorate or inhibit an undesirable function" _ and experimenting with actually replacing "faulty, disease-causing" genes, said Dr. James B. Wyngaarden, former director of the National Institutes of Health.

Wyngaarden will join a remarkable group of national genetics leaders Thursday in the Presbyterian Health Foundation's 10th anniversary symposium on "The Human Frontier: DNA, Genes and Molecular Biology." They will present their views on the research and its potential at Civic Center Music Hall.

The reason genetic research is "so important to our lives" will be the focus of the 10:20 a.m. address by Wyngaarden, who also has served as chairman of the Duke University Department of Medicine and director of the Human Genome Organization.

"The next phase, which already is under way, is disease therapy based on the treatment of the disordered gene itself," Wyngaarden said in a telephone preview of his appearance. "Genetics will dominate the development of drugs for very important diseases."

This dominance also will be reflected in the economic development of areas that feature outstanding research organizations working in biotechnology, Wyngaarden said.

Every great research university already has a technology transfer program, he pointed out. The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation obviously could be on that list.

DNA technology, which involves the basic chromosomal material for transmitting hereditary patterns, has "spawned a whole new industry with all the growing pains of infancy and adolescence," he said.

"Today, there are numerous biotechnology companies that are pursuing new therapies based on genetic manipulations," he added, listing products such as human insulin and growth hormone that are now commercially available. "It is safe to predict that the biopharmaceutical industry will increasingly depend upon products derived from these genetic technologies."

Replacement of faulty, disease-causing genes with functional copies is called "gene therapy," and Wyngaarden said there already are "proofs of principle" in this area.

"For example," he said, "it is possible to correct the abnormal chloride channel function of cystic fibrosis cells in culture by the recombinant insertion of the normal chloride channel gene. A limited number of human gene replacement trials have been undertaken in man."

All this has been developed in growing genetics research that followed the observations of Garrod. The one gene-one enzyme concept provided the potential of explaining the "inborn errors" described by Garrod, he said.

"In 1950, Linus Pauling and associates obtained evidence that human mutations produced alterations in the primary structure of proteins," he said. In 1949-53, Vern Ingram discovered the same thing in sickle cell hemoglobin.

"This discovery completed one era of study of human biochemical genetics. Inborn errors of metabolism were caused by mutant genes that produced abnormal proteins, whose functional activities were altered."

It is important, he said, that this research brought science, chemistry and medicine together.

Next came the discovery of the genetic code for individual amino acids and the development of rapid sequencing methods of nucleic acids, Wyngaarden said. …

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