Can new genomic projects in India increase India’s practically non-existent presence in global gene databanks?
The Genome India Project was launched on October 24 at the Institute of Bioresources & Sustainable Development (IBSD), Manipur. The project will involve comprehensive data resources mapping the genomes of Indians in the North Eastern Region (NER) with the intention of aiding the provision of personalised medicine.
The ability to map genomes is getting cheaper every year. With a person’s genome analysed, doctors would be able to observe any genetic traits that predispose an individual to specific conditions. It would also allow for far more accurate diagnosis and the prescription of the most appropriate medicine for the individual.
A huge reduction in medical bills could result. Indians notably incur significant out of pocket expenditure for medical treatments. Genome mapping may be a means by which to provide far more cost effective treatment.
The more genomes mapped, the more effective the information would be on a national level. Investigating which genes are abundant in specific regions will help us to identify genetic disease burden of the people in the region,” says Director Prof Dinabandhu Sahoo of IBSD. Creating a detailed map of regions most hard hit by particular diseases would allow for targeted healthcare campaigns.
India possesses a considerable amount of genetic diversity amongst its citizens. The north east was considered to be a particularly diverse region, leading to its selection for the project.
Until now, this diversity has been left largely unstudied. As previously noted by Health Issues India, genetic databanks have so far been largely eurocentric. To date, only around 0.2 percent of the world’s mapped genomes are Indian.
India has many groups of people descended from relatively small clusters of ancestors. An example of this is the Vysya, a regional group local to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana who were traditionally associated with being traders. Descendants of this group often carry a gene which causes a severe, and often fatal reaction to muscle relaxants used during surgery.
The journal Nature notes that South Asia houses around 1.5 billion people, making it the most populated region in the world. With a population of more than 1.3 billion people, India accounts for the overwhelming majority of this number. Genomics projects in India could uncover untold numbers of genes that could be implicated in causing disease. Some have already been uncovered, with Indians previously discovered to harbour a number of genes associated with type II diabetes.
This Genome project marks the start of what could turn out to be a healthcare revolution in India. For it to be effective, genome mapping would need to be made even more accessible in terms of price. This would allow for the maximum number of people to reap its benefits. If successful, genome wide association studies the world over could increase their scope, becoming far more efficient and charting yet more genes linked to disease.
Nicholas Parry has a Bachelor of Science in genetics from the University of Sheffield and a Master of Research in neuroscience from the University of Nottingham. He has been a featured writer for Health Issues since 2016. He is based in South Wales.