Engineering a New Attack on Disease

Out of a world population of 6 billion, 57 million people die each year. And while we have gained 20 years in life expectancy since World War 2, diseases like HIV have taken a toll on morbidity in many developing nations. But according to Rick Young, “the global disease burden is much larger than the number of deaths.” Countless millions suffer from cardiopulmonary diseases, cancer, and malaria, to name but a few, at a nearly incalculable cost to their families and society. Young’s mission is to attack the problem of global disease at the genetic level: he’s hunting for specific proteins that can turn the genetic machinery of diseases on, or off. These “gene regulators” can be knocked out of whack by a virus like HIV or by a mutation that results in a disease like mature onset diabetes. Young’s group has developed a DNA microarray technology that helps them link gene regulators to their corresponding genes. They’ve worked out the connections in yeast, and they’re targeting the human genome next. Young’s ultimate goal: “By continuing to focus on your 2000 gene regulators, we could eventually develop great insights into how organ systems work… (And) in all instances where disease is associated with misregulation, we could develop new strategies for drug development based on that.”

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About the Speaker
Richard A. Young Member, Whitehead Institute Professor of Biology, MIT

Richard A. Young is a pioneer in gene transcription, the process by which cells read and interpret the genetic instructions embedded in DNA. His lab’s achievements include novel AIDS vaccine candidates and new approaches to drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Young received his Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University in 1979. He has been director of the National Cooperative Vaccine Development Group for AIDS at the Whitehead Institute and has served on several international committees for the World Health Organization. He received the Burroughs Wellcome Scholar Award in 1987 and the Chiron Corporation Biotechnology Research Award from the American Society for Microbiology in 1994. Young was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 1994, and a charter fellow of the Molecular Medicine Society in 1995.

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