Thursday, February 22, 2018

Chinese dig deep for Aussie gene mine

Chinese dig deep for Aussie gene mine

Grant Morahan at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth. Picture: Colin Murty
Grant Morahan at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth. Picture: Colin Murty
  • The Australian
A world-leading genetic resource created in Western Australia has been sold to Chinese buyers because of a lack of investment interest in Australia.
The “gene mine” that helps researchers rapidly map and identify genes linked to human diseases has been snapped up by China’s leading animal sciences institute and medical school in a $US2 million ($2.56m) sale.
Lead researcher Grant Morahan, of the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth, said the “mine” was developed over a decade and has captured more than 90 per cent of common genetic variations in mouse species.
“It allows researchers to find models for disease and identify genes that cause that trait,” he said. This had resulted in more natural mouse models of human diseases “than have been produced in the rest of the world”.
“It’s a natural model, not gen­etically modified, so it’s more likely to mimic the exact symptoms of disease ... in humans.”
The tool has been used globally in research into heart disease, dementia and diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in adults.
The clinical director of the Illa­warra Medical Research Institute, professor Leonard Arnolda, said the WA mouse models had been invaluable in investigating a rare disease of the heart muscle that can cause otherwise healthy young adults to die suddenly. “As far as the cardiovascular system is concerned, the gene mine has been a goldmine,” he said.
Professor Morahan said the genetic tool was created with backing from WA’s Centre for Diabetes Research and Perth-based medical research company Geniad, “but we’ve run out of funds to keep it in Australia”.
The “mine”will be transferred to China after being bought by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences’ Institute in Beijing.
Professor Morahan said although no investor had been found, he would continue to work on extending his gene technology with the Chinese ­institution.