Explain what is ‘IndiGen’ project? Discuss how CSIR’s ‘IndiGen’ project will lead to precision medicine and develop its commercial gene testing services? (15 Marks)

Mentors Comments:

  • https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/sequencing-indian-genes/article29865310.ece
  • The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) recently announced the conclusion of a six-month exercise (from April 2019) of conducting a “whole-genome sequence” of a 1,008 Indians.
  • The question is straightforward; one must explain the concept of what is ‘IndiGen’ project and in what way it will help in precision medicine and commercial gene testing services.
  • In brief, explain the context of the question.
  • In the main body, explain first what is whole genome sequencing?
  • Discuss how the CSIR enterprise work on the project – Under “IndiGen”, the CSIR drafted about 1,000 youth from across India by organizing camps in several colleges and educating attendees on genomics and the role of genes in disease. Some students and participants donated blood samples from where their DNA sequences were collected.
  • Explain the challenges involved.
  • Conclude with the significance of such a project.

Answer:

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) recently announced the conclusion of a six-month exercise (from April 2019) of conducting a “whole-genome sequence” of a 1,008 Indians. The project is part of a programme called “IndiGen” and is also seen as a precursor to a much larger exercise involving other government departments to map a larger swathe of the population in the country.

IndiGen project:

  • The aim of the exercise was twofold:
    • To test if it’s possible to rapidly and reliably scan several genomes and advise people on health risks that are manifest in their gene
    • Understand the variation and frequency of certain genes that are known to be linked to disease.
  • The project is an adjunct to a much larger government-led program, still in the works, to sequence at least 10,000 Indian genomes.
  • Typically, those recruited as part of genome-sample collections are representative of the country’s population diversity. In this case, the bulk of them will be college students, both men and women, and pursuing degrees in the life sciences or biology.
  • The project aims to reach out to a lot of collegians, educating them about genomics and putting a system in place that allows them to access information revealed by their genome.

Methodology:

  • Genomes will be sequenced based on a blood sample and the scientists plan to hold at least 30 camps covering most States.
  • Genome sequencing is the process of determining the complete DNA sequence of an organism’s genome at a single time. This entails sequencing all of an organism’s chromosomal DNA as well as DNA contained in the mitochondria (and, for plants, in the chloroplast).
  • Every person whose genomes are sequenced will be given a report.
  • The participants would be told if they carry gene variants that make them less responsive to certain classes of medicines.
  • For instance, having a certain gene makes some people less responsive to clopidogrel, a key drug that prevents strokes and heart attacks.

IndiGen benefits for precision medicine:

  • The whole-genome data will be important for building the knowhow, baseline data and indigenous capacity in the emerging area of Precision Medicine.
  • The benefits include epidemiology of genetic diseases to enable cost-effective genetic tests, carrier screening applications for expectant couples, enabling efficient diagnosis of heritable cancers and pharmacogenetic tests to prevent adverse drug reactions.
  • The outcomes will have applications in a number of areas including predictive and preventive medicine with faster and efficient diagnosis of rare genetic diseases.
  • The outcomes will be utilized towards understanding the genetic diversity on a population scale, make available genetic variant frequencies for clinical applications and enable genetic epidemiology of diseases.

The CSIR exercise ties into a larger program coordinated by the Department of Biotechnology, which plans to scan nearly 20,000 Indian genomes over the next five years, in a two-phase exercise, and develop diagnostic tests that can be used to test for cancer.

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