Groundbreaking Trinity discoveries to help drug treatments

Trinity academics have been behind two key scientific breakthroughs in recent weeks. A team working with Professor of Experimental Immunology Kingston Mills, have made a discovery that could lead to the development of more effective auto-immune therapies. Meanwhile, a fresh discovery by Dr David Gonzalez Knowles and Dr Aoife McLysaght may have found genes that are unique to humans.

The discovery by Prof. Mills and his team may help Multiple Sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes patients better understand how their diseases develop. The research has shown that a cytokine messenger molecule (IL-17) which is the major cause of cellular inflammation was brought about by a group of cells unsuspected of doing so until this point. These cells, called gamma delta T cells, orchestrate the inflammatory process.

Auto-immune illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes affect and inflammatory bowel disease affect 20 percent of the world’s population. In Ireland, rheumatoid arthritis affects one in 100 people, or around 40,000 people, while multiple sclerosis affects one in every 800 people or 4,500 people.

Commenting on the significance of the discovery, Professor Mills stated: “Our findings have considerably enhanced our understanding of the mechanisms which cause the cellular damage in autoimmune diseases, and should help in the design of more effective drug treatments.”

Meanwhile research in the School of Genetics and Microbiology and the Smurfit Institute of Genetics in Trinity College Dublin by Dr David Gonzales Knowles and Dr Aoife Mc Lysaght has discovered genes that are unique to humans (as distinct from other primates) the first such discovery of this kind.

While the DNA of humans and chimpanzees is 99 per cent identical, the small genetic differences have a key role in making us human. TCD scientists have now identified for the first time human specific genes that originated during the evolution of humans following the separation from chimpanzees

It had been believed new genes could only evolve from duplicated or rearranged versions of pre-existing genes. It seemed highly unlikely that evolutionary processes could produce a functional protein-coding gene from what was once inactive DNA, until now.

They managed to uncover three human genes that had no counterpart in any other organism, not even in our closest relative the chimp.

The key to the research however was to “demonstrate that the human DNA is really active as a gene”, commented Dr McLysaght.