Probing the Parsi people

AVESTAGENOME Project to study genetic causes of Parsi longevity

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SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Seeking a better understanding of the genetic causes of longevity in the Parsi community, DNA microarray manufacturer Affymetrix Inc. has launched a comprehensive genetic study with Avesthagen Ltd., a leading biotechnology company based in Bangalore, India.

Under the terms of the companies' agreement, Affymetrix's microarray technology will be used for The AVESTAGENOME Project, a comprehensive genetic study of more than 60,000 Parsi individuals. The project will explore the genetic basis of longevity and create a genetic, genealogic and medical database of the Parsi-Zoroastrian population.

Approximately 31 percent of the Parsi population lives past the age of 60, compared to seven percent nationally. Avesthagene will collect blood samples to study the genetic make-up and prepare a database of genealogical and medical data of the Parsi community of Hyderabad, known for both its large in-bred population and high incidence of breast cancer.

"Such in-bred communities could throw up certain genes, which are causing such ailments," Avesthagen's Anita Francis told The Hindu, India's national newspaper.

The five-year study takes a systems biology approach which encompasses not only genotyping, but also expression profiling and transcriptomics. The use of Affymetrix's GeneChip microarray technology platform will enable researchers to correlate genes with longevity, as well as neurodegenerative conditions, breast cancer, diabetes and other complex diseases in the Parsi community.

According to the agreement, Spinco Biotech Pvt. Ltd., a leading distributor of instrumentation and reagents for Indian biotechnology research and industrial markets, will supply the Affymetrix microarray technology and provide technical support to Avesthagen.

The genotyping phase of the project, which began Oct. 5, 2007, consists of 10,000 samples in the first year. By mid-2008, the team will perform expression profiling and transcript mapping experiments across a subset of the samples. The project is expected to be completed before 2013.

Working with Affymetrix will provide Avesthagen with access to industry-leading technology and some of the world's most prominent genetic researchers, says Dr. Villoo Morawala-Patell, founder, chairperson and managing director of Avesthagen.

"We believe that the combination of the Affymetrix technology and our team of scientists will yield interesting findings that will benefit people around the world," Morawala-Patell says.

A better understanding of the genetic causes of longevity could have a major impact on the Indian government's healthcare budget and drug companies' marketing efforts, says Kevin King, president of Affymetrix.

"The AVESTAGENOME Project is a prime example of a community uniting to accelerate research for the common diseases affecting one another," King says.

"Affymetrix looks forward to a long-term relationship with the Avesthagen team as it develops the Parsi database and then looks to create more effective diagnostics and personalized treatments for patients."

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