Data collected by the UK biobank genetics, enhances our understanding of genes and how they affect health.
Researchers have been trying to understand how genes affect diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease, that are caused by many genes and factors for years. To do so, one crucial factor is data, the importance of which we have discussed before here.
How genes interact with brain health is connected to how genes interact with brain function in general. There are many factors that affect each other in extremely complex pathways. To understand this then, we have to collect and analyze data from many genes, from many people as well as various biomarkers from the same individuals. This is exactly what this study did. By examining only certain key areas of the genome, they were able to record data from a huge population with 800,000 genetic markers. Those locations can then give clues about the rest of the genome and through statistical methods can show the researchers a complete image of ones genome without the need to sequence all of it, which would be very expensive.
Obviously this research wasn’t cheap either, but the data collected is very detailed and can help us understand many diseases.
One extraordinary example in an amazing study from the University of Oxford, used the genetic data and performed extra brain imaging tests, to determine the function of certain genes in the brain. They show that 148 associations can be found between genetic polymorphisms and imaging phenotypes.
The first result of such a study is that we now know which genes affect the function of the brain and in which way. For example, genes responsible for neural structure and signaling have been found. This can lead to further research associating those phenotypes and genotypes with diseases, including mental illness.
The next result that we could acquire from such studies, is association between genes and behaviour. Something that would be extremely interesting. This study though focused on mostly older individuals to identify associations between brain activity patterns and genetic polymorphisms. It is a great way to discover new targets for drugs or even gene therapy solutions.
Other studies using the same genetic data focused on cardiovascular disease. This may eventually tell us whether Alzheimer’s disease is genetic or a consequence of vascular dysfunction due to age. Obviously it will be genetic in some degree but what would be the reason. Dysfunctional production of Amyloid-beta or dysfunctional elimination of it through the blood vessels of the brain.
More studies will certainly become available over time based on the genetic data by UK Biobank. Already the first few studies show exciting results. Researchers in the UK understanding the potential of such a huge data collection are doing their best to make associations. Those will lead to new drugs and therapies and an exciting future.
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