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May 15, 1996

Findings on Host Resistance Genes for Infectious Diseases Are Pointing the Way to Drugs, Vaccines

JAMA. 1996;275(19):1464-1465. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530430008004

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EVER-EXPANDING knowledge of human genetics is starting to pay dividends that will help explain why some people exposed to disease-causing pathogens become severely ill while others succeed to varying degrees in fending off sickness.

"Infectious disease resistance in humans is clearly polygenic," noted Adrian V.S. Hill, DM, at a recent conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, on "Genetic Susceptibility and Complex Traits," cosponsored by the journal Nature Genetics and the Canadian Genetics Diseases Network. What's more, Hill noted, analysis of candidate genes for such scourges as malaria and tuberculosis appears to be an efficient way to get information about the role of host factors in these diseases and apply such findings clinically in the form of tests for disease susceptibility, drug treatment, and vaccines.

Genetic Trade-offs  Scientists have long known, for example, that the gene that causes hemoglobin S, the abnormal form of hemoglobin found in patients with sickle cell anemia