The human genome project has clearly underlined the universality of life in the form of a common heritage that is DNA, with every other person being 99.9% identical to the other. Also the surge of information in the post genomic scenario has tremendous applications in healthcare apart from sociological implications. Comparative genomics approaches are being used to address not just the issues of relatedness between the living forms but also more complex issues such as those that are responsible for putting the human race above all other living forms. Also, the Human genome sequence information is likely to change the way medicine is practiced. We are witnessing the emergence of the discipline of predictive medicine where medical intervention can be planned even before the disease sets in. Predisposition to a disease, a direct reflection of the genes we carry, will take a centre-stage and is likely to play a major role in the development of appropriate prophylactic measures. As opposed to the conventional generic drugs, where a single drug is marketed for the entire population, the concept of tailor-made drugs based on genetic profile of an individual or, a genetically defined population would emerge. Apart from these, there are many other applications pertaining to the genome sequence utilization for drug discovery and molecular medicine. Microbial genome programs have widened our perspectives on preventive medicine and infectious disease management through molecular diagnosis, epidemiology and vaccine development.
The Hyderabad based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) has a mandate to translate the fruits of modern biology to benefit society and, this is clearly visible. This institute is an autonomous centre of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India and is engaged in providing services and carrying out research in the frontline areas of modern biology. The major service components of CDFD involve DNA fingerprinting, diagnostics, genome analysis and bioinformatics. Basic research in overlapping frontier areas of modern biology, especially in the post genomic scenario, is an integral component of this institute.
The DNA fingerprinting service, given the fact that it has been shown to bring about dramatic increase in the conviction rate, will continue to be in much demand. With the crime burden on the society increasing, more and more requests for DNA fingerprinting are naturally anticipated. For example, starting from just a few cases of DNA fingerprinting per month, CDFD is now handling similar number of cases every day. CDFD has recently automated and computerized all the case work with plans for the development of complete databases vis-à-vis the appropriateness of a given probe for the Indian population. CDFD has signed MOUs and is working very closely with State/Central Forensic Science laboratories to popularize this technology for the benefit of the society. To ensure proper quality control and quality assurance, CDFD has taken pro-active measures which also involve setting up a National level Statutory Body. It is also set towards establishing a Disaster Management Cell and development of several new DNA based services in the areas of seed authentication, certification of genetically modified foods (GM foods) and wildlife and animal identification.
In the diagnostics area, CDFD has increased the range of services provided, encompassing cytogenetic, biochemical and molecular diagnosis. The diagnostics laboratory at CDFD runs a new-born screening programme with a mission to prevent the development of genetic disabilities through early intervention and treatment. This screening program was initiated in October, 1999 and is designed to provide high quality clinical testing for ante-natal detection and diagnosis of metabolic disorders pre-symptomatically. Under this program, which is partly funded by Dr Reddy's Foundation for Human and Social Development, we have selected four major hospitals located in the city of Hyderabad to screen every child born at these hospitals. Screening of more than 5000 new-borns has revealed that congenital hypothyroidism is very frequent (one in 650) and which, if not treated, would lead to severe mental retardation. Given the burden of infectious diseases, in our country, CDFD is now moving into diagnosis and identification of microbial pathogens, particularly focussing on, to begin with, tuberculosis.
Complete sequence of the human genome and information from other sources, such as expression data from microarrays, have produced enormous information base for researchers. The marriage between biology and computer science known as bioinformatics is an attempt to make sense of this colossal amount of data and extract the useful information out of it. The Bioinformatics Facility at CDFD is ranked as one of the top centres of its kind in India, which is evident from the recognition given to it by the European Molecular Biology Network (EMBNet). CDFD has been designated as the Indian node for the European Molecular Biology Network and is the only node, other than one in China, outside Europe. It has got an unusually large number of software and databases for genome analysis with browsable databases at its website. This includes an indigenously developed database known as the Database of Structural Motifs in Proteins (DSMP). Analysis of the data contained in DSMP will enable the investigator to arrive at an educated guess about the likely structure and therefore function of his protein. It is therefore, no wonder that the CDFD website is visited approximately once every minute.
India has demonstrated strength and has provided the leadership globally in information technology. CDFD is making major effort to bring about synthesis of IT with Biotechnology by initiating new programs in bioinformatics. This involves collaboration with IT schools and institutions both in the private and public sector. CDFD is also planning to initiate a national effort for generating SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) maps with specific reference to diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and those caused by non-infectious agents.
To stay ahead, CDFD is persistently focussing on basic research & development by adding new research groups covering modern areas of biology. (For more details please see our website). Several new activities in frontier areas of modern biology such as bacterial genetics, molecular pathogenesis, cancer biology and metastasis, computational biology, structural and functional genomics, immunology, gene expression and cell death, host-parasite interactions, cellular signaling, etc. have been initiated.
The candidate malaria vaccine antigen developed jointly between Dr Hasnain's lab at CDFD/NII and the laboratory of Dr Altaf A Lal at CDC, Atlanta, USA, has now moved to the production stage. Large scale clinical grade material would be required for testing this candidate vaccine in clinical trials. Efforts are also being made, funded largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to make available large amounts of this material for clinical trials, which are yet to start. A Hyderabad based company has also agreed to produce the clinical grade material.
CDFD is networking with hospitals, tuberculosis centres and tuberculosis research institutes in the country and outside the country to set up a National Epidemiological Databank of Mycobacterium tuberculosis genotypes based on whole genome fingerprinting of clinical isolates of tuberculosis which has been perfected at CDFD. As of today, we have about 1,000 isolates typed and compared with standard isolates from around the world including Europe, Australia, South America, Netherlands, etc. Another pathogen under this effort has been the human gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori. Considerable leads have been established in typing, mapping and sequencing of the Indian strains of H. pylori with reference to molecular pathology (ulcers),drug resistance and sub-clinical invasions.
Because of their importance as a human pathogen, widespread interest in their biology and evolution and the value of the genome sequence information for drug discovery and vaccine development in Indian perspective, CDFD has expanded its research activities to generate large scale sequence data and genotypic information on these two pathogens of contemporary interest. Automated DNA sequencing, comprehensive in silico modeling studies and microarray based approaches have been already planned for the two organisms.
Knowledge based tools in computational genomics are being developed at CDFD towards effective utilization of the data generated from human and microbial sequencing projects. We believe that this will revolutionise and redefine all conventional time-scales, and methods related to the discovery of drugs and drug targets.
Working together with the L V Prasad Eye Institute and the Hyderabad Eye Research Foundation, CDFD has been looking at the molecular basis of primary congenital glaucoma, which, if not treated, leads to childhood blindness. In the process, we are also developing inexpensive diagnostic methods for rapid detection of this disease at the genetic level, which will have implications in early diagnosis and treatment, carrier detection and genetic counseling and in population screening for this devastating eye disease.
CDFD is an intellectual partner in the global effort to sequence and map the silkworm genome and has provided molecular markers (microsatellite markers) to generate a physical map, which is the first step, in genome sequencing.
Human resource development and training is another component which CDFD has been undertaking. The attempt to attract bright young minds very early in their formative years to a career in biology is crystallizing in the form of a 'DNA Play Centre' where children from as early as those in class V or VI can come and spend time with the scientific community of CDFD to get first hand exposure to the challenge which biology poses to an inquisitive mind. The Young Scientist Program to attract medical/engineering students and others studying for their Masters and B.Sc. degree has been getting overwhelming response. For example, 800 applications were received this year, from all over India for the Summer Scholar's Program at CDFD from which the Centre could oblige just about a couple of dozens!!. To develop IT based manpower, CDFD has also introduced a bioinformatics-internship program for the graduates to learn bio-computing and provide knowledge based software tools in modern biology.
At the beginning of the new millennium, the CDFD stands at a critical junction. Marching ahead with the symphony of quality service and globally competitive research, this fastest growing Institute will emerge as a global centre of excellence in basic research where fruits of modern biology would be translated to serve the mankind with a view to improve the quality of health.
For more Information, Please Visit http://www.cdfd.org.in