German Science Weekly Highlight-15 | DW-RADIO | DW | 02.02.2005
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German Science Weekly Highlight-15

Hope for Genetically Defective Hearts


Have you ever wished you could get a good, close look at your genes?

It’s a natural dream, given what scientists say about genes being the building blocks of life, the things that form our individual bodies and personalities. Genes even help decide what kinds of illnesses we’ll get.

Well scientists have a number of different ways of looking at your genes. One of them is the DNA chip, or microarray. The chip was developed about a decade ago, and it takes some 30,000 genes, arranges them on a slide, and notes which ones are turned „on“ and which ones are „off.“

You see, each cell in your body has the same DNA. But you’ve got different kinds of cells. How do the different kinds of cells grow out from the same DNA? Well, for each cell, a different set of the genes in your DNA is turned „on“ or „off“ – that is, are active, or inactive. For a liver cell, or a skin cell, or a heart cell, which genes are „on“ and which are „off“ is different. The process by which genes are turned on or off is called gene regulation.

But for some people, gene regulation isn’t working correctly. The right genes aren’t turned „on“ or „off.“ Those people have genetic defects – for example, a defective heart. Thousands of people are born each year with defective hearts. They are a major cause of cardiovascular disease, and often death.

But scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin have found a new way to treat defective hearts. They take a piece of a person's heart, and then examine it with the the DNA chip. That way, they can know exactly if, and how, the heart is defective. And then they can develop a treatment just suited to the individual. Click below and Dr. Silke Sperling will give us hope for genetically deformed hearts.

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