The 10th Annual International Gene Forum 2010
“Functional and Complex Genetics”
June 18-19, 2010, in Tartu, Estonia
On 18-19 June, the 10th annual two-day international conference in the field of genomics and biomedicine took place in Tartu, which this time carried the subtitle of “Functional and Complex Genetics”. The presentations at the anniversary conference also focused, to a significant extent, on the genetics of complex diseases. More than 200 scientists, doctors, students, health care authority officials, directors and investors from Estonia and abroad participated in the conference along with the 18 invited speakers.
The Gene Forum was opened by Professor Alar Karis, Rector of the University of Tartu, Estonia, who recognised the organisers for the organisation of the high level conference and wished the participants a fruitful exchange of ideas. One of the keynote speakers at the Forum was Professor Gert-Jan van Ommen, Leiden University Medical Center, The Netherlands, who is one of the world’s pre-eminent human geneticists and former president of HUGO (Human Genome Organisation). In his presentation, Van Ommen focused on the genetic predispositions for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and the possibilities for treatment. According to initial data, up to 70% of all cases of illness can be treated with the aid of gene therapy, during the course of which a correctly sequenced DNA chain is injected into muscle cells in addition to the damaged DNA already present and the synthesis of faulty proteins causing dystrophia is prevented.
The other keynote speaker at the conference was Professor Svante Pääbo, of Estonian descent, who is currently a Director at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and is considered one of the founders of paleogenetics. Pääbo has studied the Neanderthal genome in detail and was the first to successfully extract DNA from the species that lived thousands of years ago. The topic of his presentation at the Gene Forum was also the genome of the Neanderthal, which went extinct 35 000 years ago, and a comparison with the genome of a modern human. Becoming apparent are genes that play an important role in the genetic structure of modern humans, which helped humans to develop as a species and which distinguish humans from other organisms on our home planet.
Europe’s leading type 2 diabetes researcher, Professor Leif Groop, Sweden, spoke about type 2 diabetes and its genetics. In his words, at least 35 genes affect the onset of type 2 diabetes, which is why it is very difficult to perform so-called gene repairs on specific genes. At the same time, only 20 per cent of type 2 diabetes is classified as genetic, which is why all those who are ill are unique in terms of their illness.
Dr. Michael Dean, from the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, discussed the sequencing of human tumours and the most common mutations taking place in prostate cancer cells. In her presentation, Päivi Peltomäki, Professor of Biomedical Cancer Research, University of Helsinki, Finland, discussed the genetics and spreading of familial cancer, demonstrating that the share of familial cancer among all cancers is 10-20% and only up to 2% of cancers are caused by single gene mutation.
In her presentation, Professor Marjo-Riitta Jarvelin focused on the genetics of alcoholism and the genetic predispositions for the development of dependence. She spoke, using the example of Estonians and Finns, on what factors – biological as well as social – affect alcohol consumption and what spot Estonians actually occupy in the consumption of alcohol in Europe. According to her data, Estonians have failed to make it into the top ten of this sad category. Professor Wilhelm Ansorge spoke about third generation DNA sequencing technology and its entry into use in personal genomics as well as gene expression research.
Professor Cisca Wijmenga, Groningen University, discussed one of the most widespread food allergies in the western world – gluten – or the intolerance of certain proteins contained in cereals, from which 1% of the world’s population suffers. Gluten intolerance is, according to Wijmenga, also a frequent cause of infertility. Suffering for an extended period of time may prove to be fatal. Wijmenga has discovered that gluten intolerance is caused by many of the same genes which cause other autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes.
Estonian scientists giving presentations at the conference included Professor Mart Saarma, from the University of Helsinki, who discussed new, large growth potential neurotrophic factors, and Estonian Biocentre director Mait Metspalu, who discussed research in which genetic methods were used in order to explain the history of human populations.
The organisation of the 10th annual Gene Forum was supported by the European Science Foundation, Estonian Biocentre, National Institute for Health Development and the City of Tartu.