Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Human genetics has a great job potential in India and abroad. A large number of students in this field are getting a good response from foreign countries in the research as well as the job sector. Students have a good opportunity to work in the area of pharmacogenomics in the pharmaceutical industry, besides having good career options in genetic testing laboratories, which is a relatively new concept in India, and studies the career status of diseased genes in different genetic disorders. There is also a chance to work in genetic counselling to the couples and families suffering from genetic diseases.

There are good prospects in clinical laboratories in the field of molecular diagnostics for various genetic disorders and infectious diseases and in reproductive genetics, where help is offered to infertile couples and those afflicted with genetic problems through prenatal genetic analyses.

Forensic genetics have opened up new vistas for human geneticists, who by molecular genotyping, can provide valuable insights into genetic individualisation of criminals, thus helping in solving crime.

Profile of Department of Human Genetics, Guru Nanak Dev University : The Department of Human Genetics of GND varsity came into existence in 1993 and has gained fame in its short tenure. The department offers B.Sc (Hons School), M.Sc. (Hons School), M.Sc. and Ph.D courses. The university conducts entrance examinations for admission to various undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The department has grown quantitatively and qualitatively in terms of research and teaching.

Major emphasis in the courses is laid on integrating diverse areas of human genetics in order to provide the students with a broad base so that they can fit into the academic and technological spheres at the national and international levels. The research forms a prominent component of studies at the postgraduate level. Faculty members have succeeded in procuring research projects from various agencies in India and abroad. Despite limited resources, the department has a significant research output.

Among the major studies being conducted in the department include comprehensive screening and evaluation of the spectrum of genetic diseases prevalent in the population groups of the north-west region of India, genetic epidemiological surveys, cytogenetic and molecular investigations. Growth studies and body composition analysis are being conducted to assess the role of genetic constitution and the impact of environmental conditions on them. Molecular and cytogenetic analyses of blood and tissue samples of individuals with genetic diseases like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, blood disorders, infertility, cancer etc. are other features of the ongoing research activity.

As part of the Human Genome Project, the study of genome diversity of North Indian population is under way. These databases can help to reconstruct the historic and phylogenetic relationships among various Indian sub-populations. This can help in understanding the demographic process that has led to the current patterns and levels of genetic diversity in the sub-continent. These will also contribute to the population profiling for forensic purposes. The knowledge of genetic predisposition to a particular disease is important for individuals who are at a higher risk for such diseases so that they can develop a healthier lifestyle and have a proper pre-symptomatic management of the condition.

Punjab, being one of the frontier states of India right from the earlier times, all invaders passed through it before going deep into India. This might have resulted in the admixture of the genes/alleles. Efforts are on to decipher the genetic predisposition to complex traits in different Punjabi population groups.

Genetic database, thus generated for endogamous ethnic groups, may provide pertinent information to genetic predisposition and the disease-inducing genes. It is also proposed to study the population genetic profile of various diseases, viz. hypertension, obesity and diabetes etc. to evaluate the genetic susceptibility or resistance, if any, of certain individuals/population groups in the region towards these diseases.

Further, in order to relate the incidence of different disease types in the populations of this region, informational outputs about the environmental factors triggering their occurrence would be attempted. The cancer burden has been reported to be 90 per cent due to dire environmental agents. Hence, it is also planned to preview genetic damage in various cases of neoplasia, occupational exposure and in commonly occurring genetic disorders using the current molecular cytogenetic methods. In such cases where a novel gene/region is discerned, DNA sequencing may also be attempted.

It is proposed to extend the studies already done in lymphocytes to tumour tissue in the GIT and breast cancer patients to find the etiological basis of these cancers. The incidence of these cancers is high in Punjab and there are no studies reported on cytogenetic profiles till now. There are till now no reports on the status of these genes in the Punjabi population. A number of growth studies are also being conducted on different populations of Punjab which can provide important information about health nutritional and anthropometric profile of children. Such studies will be further extended to investigate the prevalence of atherosclerosis risk factor in male members of the state and to investigate the inter-relationship between lifestyle factors and development of diabetes in human population .

Prof A.J.S. Bhanwer of the department informed that the activities of the department were recognised by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, which sanctioned it a grant of Rs 35 lakh for further upgrading the available infrastructural facilities.

Course chat

A. J. S. Bhanwar
Dr A. J. S. Bhanwar

Dr A. J. S. Bhanwar, head of the department of human genetics, Guru Nanak Dev University, which is the only department in this field in Punjab, informed that students of the department were doing exceptionally well in advanced countries like the USA, Canada, UK and the EU in the fields of molecular diagnostics, pharmacogenomics, genetic testing and genetic counselling etc.

More research-oriented departments are being planned where a large number of students can find employment in the country. The Department of Science and Biotechnology is making concerted efforts to make human genetics a major project in India, he added.

He said the country had already made a major landmark in the genetic research and biotechnology, which will bring large funds from multinational companies to open up research laboratories in India. India is, at present, on the threshold of making progress in this field, providing hope to those suffering from genetic disorders.