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Wellcome Trust Research Round-up

31 Mar, 2014

For a trial period of two months we’ll be bringing you a fortnightly update of news from our researchers. Here’s the second edition, we hope that you find it useful.

Carb overload

New research funded by the Wellcome Trust indicates that obesity in the general population may be genetically linked to how our bodies digest carbohydrates.

Chip buttyPublished in Nature Genetics, the study investigated the relationship between body weight and a gene called AMY1, which is responsible for an enzyme present in our saliva known as salivary amylase. This enzyme is the first to be encountered by food when it enters the mouth, and it begins the process of starch digestion that then continues in the gut.People usually have two copies of each gene, but in some regions of our DNA there can be variability in the number of copies a person carries, which is known as copy number variation. The number of copies of AMY1 can be highly variable between different people.

Researchers from Imperial College London, in collaboration with other international institutions, looked at the number of copies of the gene AMY1 present in the DNA of thousands of people from the UK, France, Sweden and Singapore. They found that people who carried a low number of copies of the salivary amylase gene were at greater risk of obesity.

Parkinson’s missing link

A new chemical messenger that is critical in protecting the brain against Parkinson’s disease has been identified by scientists at the University of Dundee.

The research team, led by Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Fellow Dr Miratul Muqit, had previously discovered that mutations in two genes – called PINK1 and Parkin – lead to Parkinson’s.

Now they have made the unexpected discovery about the way the two genes interact, which they say could open up exciting new avenues for research around Parkinson’s and offer new drug targets. The results of their research are published in Biochemical Journal.

“Understanding the fundamental mechanisms of how brain cells die in Parkinson’s is likely to uncover new insights into how to treat this progressive disorder,” said Dr Muqit.

Skin cancer warning

Sunbathing at the TateMutations in a specific gene are responsible for a hereditary form of melanoma according to new research from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Every year in the UK, almost 12,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma, a form of skin cancer. About 1 in 20 people with melanoma have a strong family history of the disease. In these patients, pinpointing the genetic mutations that drive disease development allows dermatologists to identify people who should be part of melanoma surveillance programmes.

The team found that people with specific mutations in the POT1 gene were extremely likely to develop melanoma. These mutations deactivate the POT1 gene that protects the ends of our chromosomes from damage.

Dr David Adams, co-senior author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said, “With this discovery we should be able to determine who in a family is at risk, and in turn, who should be regularly screened for early detection.”

In other news…

Dr Faith Osier, from the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kenya, has won the prestigious 2014 Merle A. Sande Health Leadership Award. Many congratulations.

Carla McKinnon and the The Sleep Paralysis Project are celebrating their win at the CineGlobe International Film Festival at CERN. They picked up the award for Best Documentary for the film Devil in the Room.

Congratulations also to Luke Alphey, recipient of a Wellcome Trust Translation Award and chief scientific officer of Oxford-based biotechnology company Oxitec, who has won BBSRC’s 2014 Innovator of the Year award.


Image credit: “BMO Field Food” by Well Preserved on Flickr CC-BY-NC-ND , “Sunbathing” by andresmh on Flickr CC-BY-SA.

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