NJIT professor finds engineering technique to identify disease-causing genes

October 28, 2008

Scientists believe that complex diseases such as schizophrenia, major depression and cancer are not caused by one, but a multitude of dysfunctional genes. A novel computational biology method developed by a research team led by Ali Abdi, PhD, associate professor in NJIT’s department of electrical and computer engineering, has found a way to uncover the critical genes responsible for disease development.

The research appeared in "Fault Diagnosis Engineering of Digital Circuits Can Identify Vulnerable Molecules in Complex Cellular Pathways," the current cover article of Science Signaling, a new publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, publisher of Science.

"We see our research developing a novel technology holding high promises for finding key molecules that contribute to human diseases and for identifying critical targets in drug development," said Abdi. "The key to success was our collaboration among researchers with different backgrounds in engineering and medical sciences."

The scientists analyzed large cellular molecular networks whose dysfunction contributed to the development of certain complex human disorders. Molecules--genes or proteins—communicate through interconnected pathways via different biochemical interactions, explained Abdi. Through these interactions, molecules propagate regulatory signals. The function of cells in the body is vulnerable to the dysfunction of some molecules within a cell. "In other words," he added, "different diseases may arise from the dysfunction of one or several molecules within an interconnected network system."

To better understand how dysfunctional molecules pass on their problems and which ones are key players, the scientists developed a novel, biologically-driven vulnerability assessment method. This novel algorithm is capable of calculating the vulnerability levels of all molecules in a network. Using a computer, they analyzed the vulnerability of several signaling networks.

"We found few molecules with the highest vulnerability level," said Ali. "Nevertheless, we observed that if each of these molecules failed to function, the entire molecular network would not work." These critical molecules, he said, also held the key to better and more effective treatments. "By understanding their roles and functions better, we would be able to develop more effective treatments for complex disorders with such unknown molecular basis," Abdi said. "Many mental illnesses fall within this category."

Effat Emamian, MD, founder and CEO of Advanced Technologies for Novel Therapeutics, a start-up company in NJIT's business incubator, and Mehdi Tahoori, assistant professor at Northeastern University, contributed to the research.

"In the field of medical research, we face enormous challenges for finding the causes and curative treatments for complex human disorders" said Emamian, whose research focuses on mental disorders. "We believe that complex human disorders, such as cancer, different mental disorders and some neurodegenerative disorders, are not caused by a single gene but rather many. Our most important task is to figure out which genes are critical for disease development and which molecules are the most promising therapeutic targets."

Tahoori noted that it was exciting to see how circuit engineering research can contribute to finding the possible causes and treatments of complex human diseases. "Modeling a problem in a different domain and using tools, methods, and techniques available in the other modeling domain can lead to breakthrough solutions for the original problem," he said. "This is what cross-disciplinary research is all about."

Source: New Jersey Institute of Technology

Explore further: Sandhoff disease study shows proof of principle for gene therapy

Related Stories

Sandhoff disease study shows proof of principle for gene therapy

February 22, 2018
Babies with the rare, deadly genetic disorder Sandhoff disease begin to miss developmental milestones just months after birth. Lacking muscle tone, they never learn to sit up, develop heads too large to lift and eventually ...

Mechanism behind common Parkinson's mutation discovered

February 5, 2018
Northwestern Medicine investigators have discovered how a gene mutation results in buildup of a toxic compound known to cause Parkinson's disease symptoms, defining for the first time the mechanism underlying that aspect ...

New kind of homing beacon targets cancerous cells and other diseases

February 5, 2018
Leukemia is a deadly cancer in which rogue white blood cells roam the bloodstream, slowly killing the body that gave them life.

Study focuses on atomic structure of the serotonin transporter bound to SSRIs

January 29, 2018
New molecular research shows how chemically diverse drugs used to treat depression and anxiety disorders interact with the protein that transports serotonin in the brain. The discovery by researchers at the OHSU Vollum Institute ...

Simple blood test could reveal epilepsy risk

February 12, 2018
A finger-prick blood test to diagnose epilepsy could be available within five years, according to scientists who are using tell-tale molecules called biomarkers to overcome current diagnostic problems and guide treatment.

A blueprint for future blood-nerve barrier and peripheral nerve disease research

February 6, 2018
Human peripheral nerves—all the nerves outside of the central nervous system—are protected by the blood-nerve barrier. This is a tight covering of endothelial cells that maintains the microenvironment within the nerves ...

Recommended for you

Fabric imbued with optical fibers helps fight skin diseases

February 23, 2018
A team of researchers with Texinov Medical Textiles in France has announced that their PHOS-ISTOS system, called the Fluxmedicare, is on track to be made commercially available later this year. The system consists of a piece ...

Low-calorie diet enhances intestinal regeneration after injury

February 22, 2018
Dramatic calorie restriction, diets reduced by 40 percent of a normal calorie total, have long been known to extend health span, the duration of disease-free aging, in animal studies, and even to extend life span in most ...

Artificial intelligence quickly and accurately diagnoses eye diseases and pneumonia

February 22, 2018
Using artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, researchers at Shiley Eye Institute at UC San Diego Health and University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in China, Germany and Texas, ...

Gut microbes protect against sepsis—mouse study

February 22, 2018
Sepsis occurs when the body's response to the spread of bacteria or toxins to the bloodstream damages tissues and organs. The fight against sepsis could get a helping hand from a surprising source: gut bacteria. Researchers ...

Breakthrough could lead to better drugs to tackle diabetes and obesity

February 22, 2018
Breakthrough research at Monash University has shown how different areas of major diabetes and obesity drug targets can be 'activated', guiding future drug development and better treatment of diseases.

Fertility breakthrough: New research could extend egg health with age

February 22, 2018
Women have been told for years that if they don't have children before their mid-30s, they may not be able to. But a new study from Princeton University's Coleen Murphy has identified a drug that extends egg viability in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.