Contact: Will Sansom
|Dozens of scientists attended the first population genetics conference at the Regional Academic Health Center Medical Research Division in Edinburg. See photo caption at end of story.|
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EDINBURG (June 19, 2008) — Gaining a better understanding of the role genetics plays in the development of diseases such as diabetes and obesity that affect American Indian, Mexican and Central American populations more than other groups was the topic of the first population genetics conference at the Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg.
The Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) includes the Medical Research Division at Edinburg and Medical Education Division at Harlingen, which are both part of the UT Health Science Center San Antonio’s School of Medicine. Researchers studying migration patterns
The conference brought together researchers with decades of experience in studying the ancient migrations of the indigenous populations of the Americas and how the current populations of the Southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America and the Aleutian Islands derive in part from these ancestors, along with more recent input from European and African gene pools.
Michael A. Escamilla, M.D., the Mary Weir Professor in the UT Health Science Center’s Department of Psychiatry, directs the South Texas Medical Genetics Research Group and helped organize the conference.Understanding the mix of ancestral origins
“Modern genetic analyses are giving us new understandings of the origins of the American Indian populations, how the Americas were settled, and the biological relationships that underlie the Mexican and Central American populations and ancestral populations from Europe and Asia,” Dr. Escamilla said. “Understanding the ancestral origins of the Mexican and Central American populations is leading to further studies of the genetic causes of medical illnesses that disproportionately affect these populations, like diabetes and obesity, and helping us to better identify the genes responsible for complex disorders like heart disease and mental disorders.”Conference draws researchers from several states
Attending the conference were speakers from Texas, Kansas, Mexico and Costa Rica, along with the South Texas Medical Genetics Research Group. The RAHC’s South Texas Medical Genetics Research Group includes researchers from the Health Science Center and from The University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.
The conference was geared toward medical researchers, geneticists and anthropologists, Escamilla said. In addition to the visiting scientists, students and faculty from the Health Science Center and UT-Pan American attended the two-day conference.Diseases are pieces of the genetic puzzle
The Rio Grande Guardian online publication carried a story about the conference and dubbed the event the first major scientific meeting in the history of the RAHC at Edinburg. Writer Joey Gomez quoted visiting speaker Maria de Lourdes Munoz Moreno, D.Sc., of the National Polytechnic Institute, Mexico City, as saying:
“We are working with DNA, trying to see the structure of the population and then if any of the sicknesses or diseases that exist now came from these indigenous populations, or diseases that appeared when the Spanish people came from Mexico and mixed.”
The South Texas Medical Genetics Research Group, supported by a $1.2 million grant from the Health Science Center, gives Health Science Center faculty the opportunity to mentor younger faculty from UT-Pan American. The group’s research, which focuses on the genetics of complex diseases, is conducted at the RAHC Medical Research Division.
Conditions under study include diabetes and obesity, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Photo caption
Among those attending the conference were (pictured left to right) Bradford Towne, Ph.D., Wayne State University; John Blangero, Ph.D., Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research; Michael Escamilla, M.D., UT Health Science Center San Antonio; Michael Crawford, Ph.D., University of Kansas; Rector Arya, Ph.D., UT Health Science Center San Antonio; Maria de Lourdes Munoz Moreno, D.Sc., National Polytechnic Institute, Mexico City; Irma Silva Zolezzi, Ph.D.; National Institute of Genomic Medicine, Mexico City; and Ricardo Cerda-Flores, Ph.D., Mexican Social Security Institute, Monterrey.###
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