May 2001

From University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Genes and gene delivery for diseases of alcoholism: a symposium at UNC

CHAPEL HILL - A symposium on genes and genes delivery for diseases of alcoholism is attracting an international gathering of scientists to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The symposium, May 7-10, is co-sponsored by the UNC Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, The UNC-CH School of Medicine, The North Carolina Biotechnology Center, and GlaxoSmithKline.

"Diseases of alcoholism have a significant genetic component and are very common because alcohol abuse is so common," said Fulton T. Crews, professor of pharmacology and psychiatry and Bowles Center director. "In many diseases of alcoholism there is, for example, cell death involving genes and gene pathways. Now we have some key technologies that give us the ability to understand these processes and to eventually intervene in them."

Among recently emergent technologies are gene chips or microarrays by which changes in the cascade of hundreds of genes can be observed simultaneously during a disease process. Gene delivery is another complementary set of technologies by which scientists can change only one gene selectively to determine how other genes are altered 'downstream' of a single gene change using microarrays. "With this technology we can investigate the mechanisms of the pathology or determine if delivery of a specific gene to cells can prevent the pathology," Crews explained.

"This symposium brings together the world's experts on gene delivery and gene analysis using microarrays with the idea that these methodologies together will give us the power to cure diseases of alcoholism."

Among the many speakers are William A. Carlezon, Jr. of Harvard Medical School who has used viral-mediated gene delivery to change addictive behavior in animals. R. Aldron Harris of the University of Texas has shown through microarray expression that many genes in the brains of alcoholics differ markedly from that of nonalcoholics.

"Our own Ronald G. Thurman, professor of pharmacology and nutrition, is on the verge of blocking the oxidative stress that alcohol causes to the liver, thus curing the development of liver fibrosis and cirrhosis," Crews, said.

"In presentations on fetal alcohol syndrome, we have H. Scott Baldwin of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who has developed strategies of gene delivery to the fetus. And Kathleen Sulik, professor of cell and developmental biology and anatomy here at UNC whose current studies involve agents that block the effects of alcohol on the fetus, including alcohol-associated birth defects," he added

"There is much in the way of exciting molecular genomic science under discussion here."

Media note: Contact Dr.Crews at 919-966-5678, email: ftcrews@med.unc.edu
School of Medicine contact, Leslie Lang, 919-843-9687, llang@med.unc.edu












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