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Deciphering Genetic Secrets Of Disease


Nearly a decade has passed since the Human Genome Project gave the world the entire nucleotide sequence of every human gene. While this was a monumental achievement, medical science still knows little about how genes work individually, and collectively, to affect disease processes.

Researchers from the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology are working to change that. With $12.6 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the La Jolla Institute recently opened a dedicated RNA interference (RNAi) center, the first of its kind in San Diego and one of the few such centers in the world. RNAi has been heralded as revolutionary technology because it opens the door to developing new therapies for cancer and other diseases based on an unprecedented ability to pinpoint the specific genes involved. Its potential and magnitude earned its discoverers the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine.

“Our center will focus on understanding the genetics behind disease processes of all kinds, and will use that knowledge toward developing new therapies to treat disease,” says Mitchell Kronenberg, PhD, La Jolla Institute president and chief scientific officer, and the center’s co-lead investigator, along with Anjana Rao, PhD, a prominent genetics and cell biology researcher recruited from Harvard Medical School.

Using RNAi, researchers can shut off individual genes, one at a time, in order to figure out which functions they control. Once medical researchers know, for instance, that a certain gene is a major contributor to a specific disease process, they can make it a target for future drug development.   

The center’s initial projects will draw upon the La Jolla Institute’s expertise as a research leader in immune-mediated diseases, such as infectious diseases, type 1 diabetes, and cancer. The facility will also be open to other academic research institutes on the Torrey Pines Mesa, including Salk, Scripps, and UCSD.    BONNIE WARD


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