January 01, 2013 -- 40% of lung cancer cases among Singaporeans can be treated genetically compared with 5% for Caucasians
Two prestigious awards – the Gruber Prize and Chen Award – to be presented at joint HGM 2013 / 21st ICG
About 40% of lung cancer cases in Singapore can be treated by a group of drugs, compared to 5% of Caucasians. This is because the genes of Singaporeans make them pre-disposed to the treatment.
Dr Edison Liu, President of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) and the man who developed the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), said that cancer is purely a genetic disorder which results from mutation of genes.
“It is mutation of the body cells that makes them malignant. There are many mutations in cancers. Every mutation generates a stronger and stronger cell that kills the patient. These genetic mutations create a monster. Even though the basic genes are normal, they mutate in such a way that makes them malignant.
“Lung cancer results from a mutation in the EGFR gene in humans. It responds to a single drug, Erlotnib. This mutation occurs in 40% of lung cancers in Singapore, and 5% in Caucasians. That explains the differing response to treatment.”
Dr Liu made the comments ahead of the HGM (Human Genome Meeting) 2013 / 21st ICG International Congress of Genetics, to be held from 13-18 April 2013 at The Sands Expo and Convention Center, Marina Bay Sands.
First time HUGO and IGF are joining forces to organise conference
This is the first time that the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) and the International Genetics Federation (IGF) are joining forces to organise a conference on genetics and genomics.
The two organisations have been organising individual conferences prior to this. The International Congress of Genetics (ICG) has been held once every five years by IGF while the Human Genome Meeting (HGM), has been organised annually by HUGO.
As founding Executive Director of GIS, Dr Liu built the institute from a staff of three in 2001, into a major institute of 27 laboratory groups and 270 staff by end-2011, with a faculty in functionality genomics, computational biology, population genetics and genome-to systems biology. He is currently Distinguished Visiting Fellow, GIS.
Cancer genetics will be one of the fields to be covered in the upcoming conference. Professor Lynda Chin from the University of Texas and Professor Mike Stratton from Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in United Kingdom, will address how various mutations generate into cancer, but also targets for cancer therapies.
“The mutations in these genes can now be sequenced, and based on that, they are deciding treatments. All these are being studied and used now in Singapore,” said Dr Liu.
“We know many diseases have a genetic component that causes them. We need to know the genetic sequential content so that we can treat it effectively. Today, genetics defines health and solutions for treatment.”
Giving another example, Dr Liu said that in the case of myeloid leukaemia, North Asians, such as the Chinese and Japanese, tend to respond less to a particular treatment than Caucasians as they are less pre-disposed genetically.
Dr Liu said that the importance of genetics in treatment of diseases, among other things, is the reason for the joint conference, which will see more than 2,000 scientists and researchers from all over the world congregate in Singapore.
Genetics influences ageing
Genetics also influences ageing – genes could see some individuals healthy at age 90 years, while others could be unhealthy and suffering from diseases at a relatively younger age. Simply put, certain genes make the aged more robust than their counterparts.
Dr Liu emphasised that ageing and lifespan are two different things.
“Healthspan is heavily genetically determined. This doesn’t mean that these healthy elderly can’t get infected and die. These long-lived people aggregate in families. Certain genes of theirs make them more robust.”
Turning to autism, he said that a significant percentage of autism cases are associated with gene mutations and are not due to poor parenting or inherited genes. It is no longer a problem of vaccination – it’s a genetic disorder. Some subsets of this disorder are related to paternal age.
“I believe that in the next 5 years, every child with a developmental disorder will get their genes sequenced.”
Dr Liu noted that genetics is important as all things biological are controlled at the genetic level, from simple single-celled organism to humans.
“We are able to manipulate organisms at a genetic level. We can do this not only for treatment of diseases but also for the creation of bio-fuels, improvement of crops and increased yields in livestock,” he said
Prestigious Gruber Prize and Chen Award to be presented at HGM 2013 / 21st ICG
The coveted Gruber Prize in Genetics, considered the Oscars in the field of genetics, and the Chen Award, will be presented during the joint conference. The annual Gruber Prize, valued at US$500,000, was established in 2001. It honours leading scientists for distinguished contributions in any realm of genetic research.
The Chen Award was set up by Professor Yuan-Tsong (Y-T) Chen and Mrs. Alice Der-Shan Chen, both originally from Taiwan, who have been committed to biomedical research for more than 30 years. Recognising the tremendous impact that genetics and genomics have had on the improvement of health and treatment of diseases, they established the Chen Award to celebrate research accomplishments in Human Genetics and Genomics in Asia Pacific.
The winners of the two awards will be announced in due course.
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