Researchers interested in studying about brain development can now gain access to an Internet based tool, referred to as the mouse Brain Gene Expression Map (BGEM) . The credit for world free access to this powerful tool goes to researchers from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
BGEM represents one of the largest gene expression maps, ever developed for a specific organ. The researchers hope that the tool may aid in identification of brain tumor origin at a genetic level, eventually paving way for the development of novel anti-cancer agents that could revolutionize brain cancer treatment.
Scientists would continuously update the BGEM web site. Out of the 25, 000 genes believed to be involved in the development of the nervous system, functional information about 30% of the genes have been deciphered so far. Mutations in these genes have been known to lead to some psychiatric disorders and brain tumors.
The human brain and mouse brain have a number of similarities, making the map crucial in study of human brain development. 'The BGEM represents a new strategy for exchanging information among researchers that will accelerate our understanding of the human nervous system. I foresee a time when researchers will be able to do certain studies to confirm hypotheses using a computer interface that links our data to many other kinds of gene information, without the need to go into a regular laboratory,' remarked Dr. Tom Curran, a leading researcher.
The growing, encyclopedia section of BGEM provides a graphic representation of more than thousands of images, as visualized under a microscope. The presence of specialized messenger RNA (mRNA) probes provides adequate information about gene expression and inactivation at each of the four stages of brain development.
These images are linked to the updated information about the genes, their location and function, in addition to the accurate DNA sequence. Scientific databases such as LocusLink, PubMed, Unigene and Gene Ontology Consortium are providing information for the website.
The Gene Expression Nervous System Atlas (GENSAT), supported by National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS) in turn uses the images. The institution hopes to document the expression of all these genes.
The extensive support from the Bioinformatics Department at St. Jude's has played a crucial role in the BGEM's success. Bioinformatics refers to the use of IT gadgets such as computers, software and other technologies to collect, organize, and use huge amounts of biological information.
The software enables online search of scientific databases for latest information on genes that influence gene development. 'Our ability to link images of gene expression patterns to information on those genes in other databases increases the value of each new gene discovery,' said Perdeep Mehta, group leader in bioinformatics at St. Jude's Hartwell Center for Bioinformatics and Biotechnology.
'A researcher who discovers a previously unrecognized gene that is expressed during brain development can rapidly determine how it fits into the overall scheme of brain development. The BGEM helps researchers skip over much of the drudgery of digging up information from the literature or from other databases,' commented Dr. Craig Brumwell, the GENSAT manager in St. Jude Developmental Neurobiology.