Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

UAE study helps pave way for 'personalised medicine'

Research may help tailor-make treatments depending on patient's DNA

It’s estimated that more than 25 million people across the world have taken DNA tests.
It’s estimated that more than 25 million people across the world have taken DNA tests.

Groundbreaking research in the UAE is paving the way for “personalised medicine” – where drugs are tailor-made to patients’ genetic make-up.

Health services around the world want to move away from a general approach to patient care.

New York University Abu Dhabi researchers shed light on how nerve cells can be grown in a laboratory. The process is invaluable for medical research as it allows experts to, for example, test drugs on cells, identifying how best to treat particular patients.

“In the long term, applying this technology has huge potential for personalised medicine,” said Dr Piergiorgio Percipalle, an associate professor at the university and one of the study’s authors.

“Understanding how nerve cells develop is important because then you can have a better understanding of the potential origin of disease.”


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Published last month in the US journal PLOS Genetics, the Abu Dhabi study looked at how nerve cells could be grown from tissue cells called fibroblasts.

Fibroblasts can be collected from patients using a skin biopsy and the nerve cells grown from them have the same genetic make-up.

For patients, this means testing drugs on the cells could offer new insight on how those medicines work on each person.

“You have a potential drug and you treat the cells with the drug and study how it affects cellular processes,” Dr Percipalle said.

“You can use nerve cells obtained from fibroblasts of healthy people and from people affected by disease.”

Nerve cells have been grown under laboratory conditions in previous studies, but the latest research brings new insight into how beta-actin, a protein, controls the process of creating nerve cells.

Other research has also demonstrated why growing nerve cells in the laboratory can be important.

A study by researchers in Greece in 2012 found that damaged parts of mice brains could be partly repaired when healthy, laboratory-grown nerve cells were transplanted into the animals.

Similar techniques could ultimately be used to repair damaged brain tissue in humans, although experts admit it will be a long way in coming.

“That would be the ultimate goal,” Dr Percipalle said. “You have a patient’s material that you manipulate in the lab, then reimplant it in the patient. That’s the basis for personalised medicine.”

He said his study represented the culmination of more than two years of laboratory research and analysis by himself and four colleagues.

The researchers are also interested in analysing the role of beta-actin in the regulation of genes during the formation of other types of cell, including those in fat and bone.

The paper was co-written by lead author, Dr Xin Xie, Robertas Jankauskas, Dr Aslam Mazri and Nizar Drou.

Updated: January 13, 2019 08:41 AM