HudsonAlpha Institute uses funding to figure out the risks of di - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

HudsonAlpha Institute uses funding to figure out the risks of diseases

(Source: WAFF Staff) (Source: WAFF Staff)

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is using funding to figure out the risks of diseases. The money comes from the National Institutes of Health. 

The idea is to develop new approaches for identifying those variants influence on the susceptibility of disease.

Dr. Greg Cooper is a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha, he's excited about a new project they are working on. He says the big picture for them is a better understanding of human DNA.

"Our DNA Is basically a chemical, and it has these four components to it," Dr. Cooper explained. "And the order of those components, the order of those letters helps to make us who we are, helps to contribute to the diseases we get, what we look like. Fundamentally speaking, it's about what makes a child like his or her parents."

This research is especially exciting, as it pertains to advances in personalized medicine.

"The reason why this is an interesting and challenging research area is that there are 3 billion of those letters in every single one of our cells. And there are millions of differences, so if we compare you and me or any two people there will be millions of spots where they're different. A lot of those differences do nothing at all. They're just sort of there for the ride, but some of them, obviously do things that are important, make your hair blonde or brown or eyes blue or brown or might put you at risk for diabetes or not."

Specific traits toward diseases like ALS, Sickle Cell or Cystic Fibrosis can be found and battled before a child is even born.

"Our goal, our challenge is to go through those billions of letters, identify the millions of places that people are different. And then sort through those millions to find out which ones matter to disease," said Cooper.

Another thing that's really cool about this has to do with the machines. Each machine can handle 16 genomes in 3 days. 20 years ago it was one genome in 25 years.

"It's a unique intersection of computer science of statistics or genetics of genomics, it's an exciting and challenging area and that's what this grant is focused on," said Cooper.

And what a difference such results can have on patient care and planning.  

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