Genetics of Disease

A normal mouse and its obese cousin.

Shifting their view from the macro to the micro, Harvard Chan School scientists are exploring the genetic underpinnings of chronic disease. School researchers have made major discoveries about the obesity-related condition known as “metabolic syndrome.” In 2007, a team created a designer compound that protects mice from those conditions and other problems—a stepping-stone to clinical trials in humans. Researchers have identified in mice a newly-discovered class of hormones that helps stop or even reverse obesity-related conditions such as insulin resistance. They have also engineered transgenic mice resistant to atherosclerosis, providing insights into prevention and treatment.

The School has developed a breakthrough statistical method and computer package known as the Family-Based Association Test (FBAT), which has led to the identification of a gene mutation strongly tied to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. And School scientists have discovered inherited gene variants that raise the risk of breast cancer in women—a finding considered the most important discovery in breast cancer genetics since the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes were identified in the 1990s.

More recently, faculty have unveiled a detailed genetic map of the malaria parasite and the first genome sequence of an extensively drug-resistant strain of the TB bacterium, discoveries that may accelerate the quest for treatments.

Next: Vital Statistics