Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Monkey gene chip may help researchers

University of Nebraska Medical Center researchers have helped to develop a new tool - based on the genes of a monkey - that could accelerate the work of researchers studying AIDS, brain diseases and fertility.

The tool is a gene chip, a kind of genetic decoder ring that can help researchers more quickly and efficiently decipher when and where genes are expressed, or turned on, in the rhesus macaque.

That's important because the monkey is a close genetic relative of humans and one commonly used in the study of human disease and development. By studying the monkey's genes, researchers can determine how diseases work and devise new ways to treat them.

"This will make important research go faster," said Robert Norgren, an associate professor in UNMC's department of genetics, cell biology and anatomy and the project's lead researcher.

Norgren and his team worked with colleagues in Oregon to put together the genetic information needed for the chip. The final product, a thin cartridge about the size of Apple's Ipod Nano, was developed by Affymetrix, a Santa Clara, Calif., gene technology firm.

The research was funded through $2.25 million grant from the National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Similar chips already are available for humans and rodents. But until now, Norgren said, researchers studying macaques had to look at one gene at a time, a process that could take hundreds - even thousands - of experiments to complete.

The gene chips contain "probes" for all 20,000 of the monkey's genes; probes are small pieces of DNA that can detect individual genes.

The chips allow researchers to analyze samples and determine which genes are turned on or off under certain conditions and how much they're on or off.


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