NEW YORK -- Scientists are scanning human DNA with a precision and scope once unthinkable and rapidly finding genes linked to cancer, arthritis, diabetes and other diseases.
It's a payoff from a landmark achievement completed five years ago -- the identification of all the building blocks in the human DNA. Follow-up research and leaps in DNA-scanning technology have opened the door to a flood of new reports about genetic links to disease.
On a single day in February, for example, three separate research groups reported finding several genetic variants tied to the risk of getting prostate cancer.
And over the past year or so, scientists have reported similar results for conditions ranging from heart attack to multiple sclerosis to gallstones. The list even includes restless legs syndrome, a twitching condition best known as "jimmy legs" in an episode of "Seinfeld."
Interviews with scientists at the center of this revolution and a review of published studies over the past six months by The Associated Press make clear the rapid adoption of the new technology and the high expectations for it.
Since 2005, studies with the gene-scanning technique have linked nearly 100 DNA variants to as many as 40 common diseases and traits, scientists noted this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"There have been few, if any, similar bursts of discovery in the history of medical research," two Harvard researchers declared last summer in the New England Journal of Medicine.
What does all this excitement mean for ordinary people? Not so much just yet. Simply finding the genes that can raise the risk of an illness doesn't mean you can prevent the disease. And developing a treatment for it can take years.
But there have been some payoffs already.
One involves a leading cause of blindness in older people, age-related macular degeneration. A series of genome-wide scans, the most recent in 2005, "led to huge breakthroughs in understanding" that disease, said Stephen Daiger, a Houston scientist.
When scientists implicated a particular gene that's involved in a system of disease-fighting proteins in the blood, it gave scientists a "slap-on-the-forehead kind of insight ... into the biology of what's going on," said Daiger, a vision genetics expert at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center.
That galvanized research into the disease. And at least one new drug is being tested in patients now.......
There's a pile more information on that link. Enjoy.