An example from a nearly completed human genetic map that could revolutionize the understanding of inherited diseases was presented by a University of Utah scientist Thursday during a symposium in Madison, Wis.
Dr. Raymond White, an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the U., was among leading international cancer researchers - including a Nobel laureate - who reported on important advances in discovering the molecular triggers for human cancer.The 11th annual Bristol-Myers Symposium, "The Cellular and Molecular Biology of Human Carcinogenesis," was co-sponsored by the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, a noted basic research center affiliated with the University of Wisconsin.
Presenters included 16 scientists from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France and Japan who are doing pioneering work in the areas of genetic control of carcinogenesis, chemical carcinogenesis, oncogenic (cancer-causing) viruses and viral on-cogenes, and growth and transformation factors in tumors.
White's pioneering work in gene mapping is an important first step to gaining insight into many inherited human diseases, including cancer.
The local researcher and his colleagues developed a special technique using DNA markers, as well as genealogical studies, to plot the genetic map.
White, in a telephone interview, said complete maps of the signposts (or markers) should lead to discovery of the faulty genes that cause inherited diseases.
"There are some 3,000 identified and often rare genetic diseases about which little is known," he said. "Scientists and clinicians can track the symptoms and progress, but predicting who will develop these diseases is often beyond their grasp."
White said a genetic map will also help illuminate the hereditary factors in some of the nation's most devastating diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis, as well as cancer.
If scientists understand the defective genes, they can begin to define the causative mechanism, search for a diagnostic test, and ultimately develop a more effective treatment, he said.
It was announced Thursday that as of Oct. 1, White's group was a recipient of a National Institutes of Health grant to expand their gene-mapping work as part of a larger genome proj-ect headed by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Jerome Watson.
The genoma project is mapping all the genes in the body and will take several years to complete. White's work has been one of the necessary first steps.
Other prestigious scientists who presented papers at the symposium were Nobel laureate Howard Temin, University of Wisconsin, with new information on how a particularly virulent type of cancer-causing virus is created; Helmuth Bartsch, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France, on human exposure to cancer-causing nitrogen compounds and how dietary regimens inhibit the formation of these compounds in the body.
"The emerging understanding of the cellular and molecular origins of human tumors, which has been defined as a major area of cancer study in the next decade, promises to have a powerful impact on virtually every aspect of cancer patient management," said Dr. Henry C. Pitot, director of the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research.
"Progress in molecular biological research is being made rapidly on many diverse fronts, and the tools of molecular biology are leading to new approaches for detecting an diagnosing specific tumors, evaluating the extent of disease, assessing disease prognosis, and classifying certain tumor types."