Gene Hunters

July 7, 1999

UA researchers are using a new technology to hunt for individual genes or genetic patterns that could hold the keys to some of medicine's most persistent mysteries.

The revolutionary "microarray" technology uses individual pieces of DNA - tens of thousands of them at a time - to determine which specific genes are expressed, or used, by cells when they make new blood vessels. These pieces of DNA are arranged, or arrayed, in a very small space on a glass microscopic slide. They are then used to differentiate between genes that are used by cells in "growing" vessels versus those that are "resting," said James B. Hoying, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

"The gene-hunting approach helps us understand the genetic program responsible for blood vessel growth and how to control it," Hoying said. "Up to this point, we've been trying to understand that program one gene at a time, not being able to understand it at a larger level."

This new capability offers tremendous opportunities for developing new disease treatments, especially in cases with a strong vascular component - such as cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure - where researchers suspect the illnesses are caused by groups of genes rather than one lone gene, Hoying said. "Once we can figure out the genetic program, then it will be easier to determine how to influence it with various therapies," he said.