India, as of now, represents a minority of genomes within global genomic databanks. This underrepresentation could be letting a number of health conditions, as well as risks relating to the conditions, slide under the radar.
One recent study of Asian genomes has uncovered the fact that a commonly-used anticonvulsant drug can have adverse effects if used on a section of Asian people. This is not an uncommon minority group that possess the gene. Rather, this is a population numbering around 400 million.
“We found variants linked to increase the adverse effect in individuals of certain drugs. Understanding this will allow doctors to provide alternative safer drugs to such patients,” said Somasekar Seshagiri, a scientist with the Chennai-based SciGenom Research Foundation, another senior author of the study. One such drug was carbamazepine, which is used for treating convulsion and certain other mental disorders.
“We are now applying the variation data produced in this study to analyse over 1500 familial inherited disorder cases from India,” said Seshagiri. This could have a considerable impact on healthcare within India. Knowledge of specific risk factors can allow preventative medicine to be tailored towards the population, rather than using knowledge gained predominantly from European genomes.
Asia accounts for roughly sixty percent of the world’s population, with India totalling nearly twenty percent alone. Despite this, genomic studies are currently severely lacking. The Genome Asia project is aiming to tackle this situation, with studies of Indian genes already uncovering ten unique ancestral lineages. The first results of the project also unveiled a number of genes in the Indian population that increase the risk of certain cancers, as well as predispose individuals to side effects resulting from some medications.
Besides the previously identified genetic risk factors for diabetes, India has a number of rare diseases that are of a genetic nature. Such a large-scale genomic project could begin to uncover the genes that stand out among those who have such conditions as some of these genes will not be present among the unaffected population also studied under the project. In understanding the genetic causes of the diseases, treatments may begin to be developed.
For more common conditions, such as heart disease, any additional knowledge regarding unique risks among the Indian population could allow for more specific means to reduce the prevalence among the population, as well as inform the public of specific behaviours or diets to avoid. Genetic data could be transformative to India’s healthcare system. With both international groups and the Centre taking interest in the matter, this could occur sooner, rather than later.