Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Eight new genetic targets for eczema treatment

A group of scientists has found eight new genetic locations linked to eczema in the Japanese population.

Eczema is a disease on which genetics has a strong influence. New data of this type could highlight previously unknown genetic causes for which it might be possible to develop treatments.

The scientists, led by Mayumi Tamari at RIKEN in Yokohama, conducted a genome-wide association study, or GWAS, on a group of about 1500 eczema patients and 8000 controls, and validated their results on a similar group. They published their results in the journal Nature Genetics.

DNA is built of two strands, each of which is a string of molecular fragments called "bases"--A, C, G, and T--paired with its complementary base (the two complementary pairs are A/T and C/G) In a GWAS, researchers select a number of bases (in this study, 600,000) that are known to vary in the human population, and identify which locations, if any, contain bases that are more common in people with a certain trait (in this case, eczema).

The Japanese scientists conducted their study to identify new locations in addition to seven other candidates, including filaggrin, that had previously been found in Caucasian and Chinese patients. The eight new locations were found in or near genes important in skin barrier function; adaptive immunity (white blood cells and antibodies); the inflammatory response; and vitamin D processing.

My own take on this is that GWAS studies in eczema patients continue to highlight the mysterious nature of the disease and how far we are from anything approaching a cure. If there are 15 known, quite different, genetic locations associated with eczema, exactly which ones should scientists focus on to try to develop treatments? The disease is remarkably complex and the best hope for new treatments would seem to be an unanticipated discovery of a new or repurposed drug.

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