Health Scan: Hebrew U. makes genetic database available

Philip Morris fighting to stay relevant with 'mini cigarettes; soft drinks tied to Alzheimer's; Glaucoma found in screening.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The Hebrew University's Yissum technology transfer company has launched a Genetic Resource (HUGR) platform for research on the genetic basis of 16 common diseases. It consists of 15,000 DNA samples taken from Ashkenazi Jews, whose inbreeding over the centuries have them similar genomes. The unique case-controlled DNA database for genetic association studies will allow the scientific community to access DNA samples directly via the Internet ( and test genes of interest. Scientists can order genotyping of any single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) of interest on any of the samples and own the results. HUGR has already proved useful in various studies, including a recent one in which a gene variant that increases the risk of schizophrenia in women - but not in men - was identified. The study was published last month in PLoS Genetics "This study is an excellent example of the potential of the HUGR platform," said Prof. Ariel Darvasi from the HU's genetics department. "The effect of the gene variant on schizophrenia was found in several populations, but was strongest among Ashkenazi Jews. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time that a whole-genome association study on schizophrenia was undertaken at a scale capable of producing meaningful results." Yissum president and CEO Nava Swersky added: "We are pleased to be able to provide this important resource for the benefit of the public. This unique database can provide valuable information to researchers seeking remedies for many debilitating diseases." She explained that samples only from the Ashkenazi and not Sephardi population were stored because of the "genetic and environmental homogeneity of this group. Among the 16 disorders represented in the database are diabetes types I and II, several cancers, neurological diseases, psychiatric diseases, hypertension and asthma. For most diseases, there are more than 500 samples per disease and a common panel of over 5,000 healthy controls. Each sample contains extensive phenotypic information, including family history, disease characterization, drug treatments, efficacy and adverse events. SHORTER 'COFFIN NAILS' Cigarette smokers are a tough, addicted breed. With anti-smoking laws tightening and preventing them from smoking in more and more public places, tobacco companies are still trying to keep their customers. Philip Morris has now crated a "mini-cigarette" suitable for the short breaks that smokers may have outdoors. This quick "nicotine fix" is just 7.2 centimeters long, or 1.3 centimeters shortage than the conventional size. But anti-smoking activists oppose it on the grounds that it will prevent many smokers from kicking the habit, and is a ruthless attempt by Philip Morris to take advantage of nicotine addicts. The mini-cigarette will be tested first in Turkey. SOFT DRINKS TIED TO ALZHEIMER'S Drinking sugary beverages may increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease, suggests research in mice conducted at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Although the exact mechanisms aren't known, obesity and diabetes are both associated with higher incidences of Alzheimer's. Dr. Ling Li and colleagues tested whether high sugar consumption in an otherwise normal diet would affect Alzheimer's progression. They used a genetic mouse model that develops Alzheimer's-like symptoms in adulthood, and over a 25-week period supplemented the regular balanced diet of half the animals with 10% sugar water. Afterwards, they compared the metabolism, memory skills and brain composition of the mice. The sugar-fed mice gained about 17% more weight than controls, had higher cholesterol levels, and developed insulin resistance. These mice also had worse learning and memory retention, and their brains contained over twice as many amyloid plaque deposits, a hallmark of Alzheimer's. Although the researchers cannot be certain if the increased mental impairment resulted specifically from the higher sugar intake or higher calories in general, these results highlight the potential risk of sugary beverages. They note that the human equivalent of the mouse diet would be roughly five cans of soft drinks per day, although since mice have a higher metabolism, it may take less sugar in humans. GLAUCOMA FOUND IN SCREENING Eight percent of people who went to Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot on World Glaucoma Day for a free eye exam earlier this month were found to have the elevated intraocular pressure that is likely to signal the potentially blinding disease, while one person had such high pressure that he had to be rushed to Kaplan for immediate examination. Glaucoma, the second-most-common cause of blindness, can be prevented with early diagnosis, the daily application of drops, laser treatment or surgery.