Geneticist’s mice studies yield human health solutions

Three different websites carry three different headlines: Eurekalert announces, “New paradigm identifies gene responsible for acetaminophen-induced liver injury.” covers the discovery of a “potent target for stopping colon cancer.” And Scientific American says, “To better study disease, mice that reflect human DNA diversity.”

Aside from their focus on human health, what do these headlines have in common? These scientific advances were all the result of research conducted by N.C. State University’s Dr. David Threadgill.

Head of the Department of Genetics, Threadgill uses mice to investigate how people’s life histories and genetic makeups influence how susceptible they are to certain diseases and how differently they respond to medication.

Realizing that “real biology doesn’t function as a single gene, but it functions as entire networks of genes,” Threadgill focuses on complex interactions among genes and the environment.

And thanks to a seven-year breeding effort he helped lead, he now works with a pool of mice that is more genetically diverse — and thus more representative of human genetic differences — than the mice previously available to scientists.

His goal: personalized medicine that helps people understand more precisely how likely they are to develop given diseases and which drugs or lifestyle changes will work best for them.

“It sounds futuristic, but we are going to get there one day,” Threadgill says. “It’s just a matter of when.”

–Dee Shore

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