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DNA Sequencing Identifies Genes for Pain, Hunger

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People who seem to stay heavy despite dieting and exercise may have their DNA to blame for a lack of results.

Genetic researchers at Cambridge have found that mutation of a gene called KSR2 may cause “continued hunger” in patients who are obese, as well as slowing their metabolism.

If these findings are true, this would explain why some people can eat an entire key lime pie at 2 in the morning and never gain an ounce, while others struggle to keep their weight down. It may not be a lack of willpower after all; it may just be (at least in part) your DNA.

The researchers have examined the effect of KSR2 on the development of obesity in mice, but they are now beginning to analyze the effect of the gene in humans.

The identification of this gene could lead to new treatments for several medical conditions. Medical News Today quoted the researchers as saying that “pharmacological approaches based on the modulation of KSR2 activity could represent a novel potential therapeutic strategy for the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Specifically, Cell says mutations in the gene are associated with insulin resistance and impaired cellular fuel oxidation in addition to obesity (see: http://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674(13)01276-2).

It’s clear that this discovery could be crucial to understanding and combating the childhood obesity pandemic here in the United States. In particular, this new knowledge could assist health professionals in treating the most severe forms of obesity in children.

It seems unlikely that genes are entirely to blame for these kind of problems, so the identification of specific genes won’t necessarily result in a “miracle cure” for obesity. Still, identifying these genetic sequences is definitely a strong step forward in turning the tides of this creeping pandemic.

The “Pain Gene”

We know, of course, that obese people are not alone in their grapple with their own genetics. Recently, I read about a similar DNA link was found among people who are experiencing chronic phantom pains following amputations.

At Duke, researchers have been using “next-generation sequencing technology” to identify genetic variations among humans. Earlier this month, they found links between a person’s DNA sequencing and their likelihood of them developing chronic “phantom” pain following amputation.

Thanks to next-gen technology, the Duke team has been able to discover hundreds of DNA sequence variations that were previously unknown to science. Somehow, these discoveries don’t all make the front page of American newspapers (or blogs), but somewhere in the back pages, today’s gene researchers are ushering us into a brave new world of treatment for illnesses.

The Next Generation of DNA Testing?

A drop of blood for testing

It’s been a very busy year in the world of genetic research. Since January, scientists have discovered new genetic links for cancer, aging, and coronary artery disease.

The latter resulted in a new, quick process for identifying coronary artery disease through testing fragments of DNA in small amounts of blood. (Blood, for those who don’t recognize it, can be seen in the photo to the right.)

As DNA technology marches forward, our ability to treat patients quickly and effectively continues to grow stronger. How long will it be before paramedics are carrying portable DNA test kits, and “fast” DNA testing equipment is a standard feature on every medical jet? It may sound highly impractical now (and right now, it would be), but consider how far we’ve come with identification and testing of genes in the past 100 years.

Eventually, all great technological advances become so ubiquitous that — as undeniably silly as it sounds — there’d be no real reason not to have “field” gene testing kits on all air ambulances.

Parental testing, a genetic technology that is pretty much taken for granted, has really only been around as we know it since the 1970s, with huge advances in each subsequent decade.

From Mendel, to the 1930s’ serogical parental tests with a 40% exclusion rate, to growing organs with stem cell research and fear of a future where childbirth as we know it is replaced by a culture of “designer babies.”

What Do You Think?

Dear readers, you will have most likely realized before now that I am clearly not a geneticist.

All the same, I offer my opinion that if you are comparing some of the biggest recent advances in genetics like cloning, something that was previously considered, like many of the technologies we take for granted today, merely “science fiction,” to gene testing kits for air medical flight crews… Well, perhaps the latter isn’t the most outlandish idea.

Or is it? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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