Gene sequence of Thais identified

 Gene sequence of Thais identified

 Finding will help bids to develop medicine

Scientists have successfully identified a genetic pattern common to Thai people that could help efforts to develop innovative drugs and treatments that suit Thai people, according to the Thailand Centre of Excellence for Life Sciences (Tcels). The so-called Pharmacogenomics project, developed and funded by Tcels, was run by a team of scientists from Mahidol and Chulalongkorn universities, the Mental Health Department, Riken Yokohama Institute in Japan, and Yale University in the United States.

The breakthrough will enable scientists to better understand how Thai people respond to diseases, bacteria, viruses, toxins and other chemicals, as well as make drugs and other therapies that work more effectively with Thai patients, said Thongchai Thavichachart, chief executive officer of Tcels.

''Ultimately, it will help our researchers design treatments and therapies to suit Thai patients,'' Dr Thongchai said.

The findings would be forwarded to research units at hospitals and other institutions in Thailand.

Project director Wasun Chantratita said yesterday that his team had studied 199 genes that direct an individual's response to medicine, and last month they successfully mapped out a common pattern of these genes.

They also found that the gene sequence of Thai people was close to those of the Chinese and Japanese.

To study the genetic pattern, the scientists collected blood samples from 280 people from four regions of Thailand. The participants had to be healthy and belong to a family that has lived in a certain place for at least three generations so that they could truly ''represent'' people from that region, said Dr Wasun.

''Currently, almost all research on the effectiveness of new drugs is based on tests that were conducted on non-Thais. The small genetic variations between different ethic groups of people can sometimes have important consequences on the efficacy of drugs,'' said Dr Wasun, an associate professor at Ramathibodi Hospital's pathology department.

Being able to identify a common genetic pattern among Thais would help pharmacists and doctors develop medicinal drugs and treatments that suit Thai patients, he said.

''We will also be able to predict with greater accuracy the likelihood of certain diseases developing among Thai people, including diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, certain heart diseases, and cancer, so that some timely preventative action can be taken,'' he added.

Dr Wasun allayed fear that foreign pharmaceutical firms would exploit the finding for commercial benefits, saying that the more information about Thai people's genetic pattern becomes available to drug producers, the more it will benefit Thai people because such information would enable the companies to produce drugs that are specifically effective with Thais.

He noted that the discovery marked the completion of the first phase of the project. In the next phase, his team would study the genes that cause resistance and allergy to drugs that are widely used in the country.

***This article was published in Bangkok Post on 13 December 2006***