WA's Next Big 'Mining' Export

        Grant Morahan 2017.jpgThe “Gene Mine”, a world-leading next generation genetic resource created in Western Australia, has been snapped up by China’s leading animal sciences institute and medical school.

The Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences’ Institute, affiliated with Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, has purchased the Gene Mine which was developed at WA’s Centre for Diabetes Research led by Professor Grant Morahan.

 The Gene Mine was created over the past decade and captures over 90 per cent of common genetic variations of the mouse species. It mimics a large, powerful family tree with dozens of “cousins”. This provides the power to help researchers rapidly map and identify genes related to complex human diseases.

This incredible resource has developed more mouse models of human diseases than have been produced in the rest of the world and includes a mouse model of diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness globally in working-age adults. This model shows a range of the exact symptoms seen in human diabetic retinopathy.

 “This opens many new doors allowing the screening of existing drugs and compounds to see if they can be used to treat or prevent the disease, as well as paving the way for us to find protective genes to develop preventative therapies and diagnostic tests to identify people most at risk of it" Professor Morhan said.

 “Together with other researchers nationally and internationally, we have identified genes for a number of diseases, including melanoma. In one study with Croatian colleagues, the Gene Mine was able to generate more results than they had previously obtained from a study of over 30,000 people.”

 The US$2 million sale of the Gene Mine had been finalized, and transfer of the resource was underway and due to be completed by June.

 Professor Morahan has been appointed a Joint Professor in Beijing to supervise discovery programs of the resource from its new base.

 “One of the biggest projects we’ll be undertaking is the ‘Good Health, Long Life’ initiative where we’ll be searching for the optimum combination of diet and genes for longevity and avoiding diabetes/obesity,” he explained.

 University of Western Australia researchers have also used the Gene Mine to successfully identify a number of novel osteoporosis-associated genes, and a novel gene related to osteoarthritis. 

 “This resource is particularly advantageous because it’s many times faster and more economical to determine the traits of interest in mice than it is in humans, and is also free of complications caused by environmental variation,” researcher Jiake Xu said.

Australian National University Professor Leonard Arnolda, who is also Clinical Director of Illawarra Medical Research Institute, is investigating the mouse models of heart disease found in the Gene Mine, in particular right ventricular cardiomyopathy – a rare disease of the heart muscle that can cause otherwise healthy young adults to die suddenly, aortic stenosis and hypertension.

 "As far as the cardiovascular system is concerned, the Gene Mine has been a goldmine," said Professor Arnolda.

Sherl Westlund, executive director at Diabetes Research WA, WA’s peak diabetes research funding group, which was instrumental in establishing WA’s Centre for Diabetes Research and continue to fund projects within the Centre, said the Gene Mine was a WA success story.

 “The development of this incredible genetic resource and its recent sale underscores the exceptional talent that Western Australia is home to and highlights what can be achieved when the community comes together to support these fine minds,” she said.

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