Scientists studying genetic links to autoimmune disorders have made the news again this week with research linking 30 genes to autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and others. Newsweek published an interview this week online with two of the researchers from MIT’s Whitehead Institute.
The scientists hope that the findings will provide a focus for future research. According to scientists, for people with autoimmune disorders, a genetic defect, or lesser functioning of the genes, causes the regulatory T cells not to function adequately. If the T cells don’t function adequately, they can’t fully control the other cells in the immune system, which then attack the body. Several years ago, other scientists pinpointed a gene called Foxp3 as the master gene that controls the regulatory T cells. The MIT researchers expanded on that work, trying to discover exactly how Foxp3 does this. They discovered that Foxp3 is directing the 30 other genes which in yurn control the T cells.
What scientists don’t know yet is whether it’s a defect in Foxp3 that controls all autoimmune disorders, or if for each disorder, a portion of those 30 other genes are defective. According to the MIT scientists, the next steps for research will be to determine what each of the 30 genes does exactly in the T cells, in order to then work on developing disease specific drugs. They also suggest that researchers might look for chemicals that mimic the function of Foxp3 in order to create a drug that could potentially treat a broad number of autoimmune disorders.
This study, which will be published in the journal Nature, sounds like the most exciting genetic research I’ve read in a while. But I haven’t yet grasped how this research fits in with or means in terms of other genetic research that has been published in the last year or two.
What do you think?