Gene therapy has often been heralded as a new frontier in medicine. The idea of delivering healthy genes to correct dysfunction holds promise for researchers of many diseases. But gene transfer therapy has raised several safety issues. For example, more clinically relevant research is needed. And genes need to be delivered to specific cell types and also specific locations in the genome, so that therapy does not unintentionally alter healthy cells or mutate the genome.
Elizabeth M. Simpson, Canada Research Chair in Genetics and Behaviour, and Senior Scientist, at UBC’s Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics within the Child and Family Research Institute, is leading the Pleiades Promoter Project. This project is designed to use the latest scientific techniques to address these safety concerns surrounding gene therapy. The Project’s objective is to build an innovative ‘tool-kit’ of 160 bioinformatically-designed and biologically-validated human DNA MiniPromoters to drive gene expression in therapeutically important brain regions.
Promoters are DNA sequences that regulate gene expression and determine which proteins are manufactured. MiniPromoter validation will involve inserting each promoter into a specific location in the mouse genome and visualizing gene expression in the brain. The mouse, whose genome resembles that of human, is the organism of choice for largescale genomic manipulation. One of the strengths of the Pleiades Project is bringing together highly qualified Canadian scientists in bioinformatics, high throughput genomics, and transgenic mouse technology to find new therapeutic approaches to brain disorders such as Alzheimer Disease, Parkinson Disease, Depression, Autism, Addiction, and Cancer.
Wide distribution and application of this research and clinical resource will be ensured by a close partnership with BioPharma Solutions, a management and communication consulting firm specializing in product development and commercialization.
Integrated GE3LS Research: Communicating Controversial Science
GE3LS Project Leaders: Stephen Ward, University of British Columbia
This project aims to develop genetic tools to use as therapeutic interventions for brain disorders such as Alzheimer, Parkinson, depression, ADHD and autism. With the ultimate goal of developing better communications strategies for genomic journalists, the GE3LS portion of this project will focus on three interrelated areas of inquiry.
First, the research will investigate the communication processes involved in getting information about genomics to the Canadian public. The research will also examine the role of journalists in the communication process, and how that role might change. Finally, the research will study how journalists should write and structure their genomic reports in ways that are socially responsible, so as to engage the public rather than act solely as a one-way conduit of science information.
Under the direction of Dr. Stephen J. Ward, this project hopes to generate several positive outcomes for genomics communication, including the creation of the first course in science communication/ journalism at a Canadian school of journalism. Ward is the director and an associate professor of journalism ethics at the University of British Columbia’s School of Journalism, and is internationally recognized as an expert on journalism ethics.