Given our advances in medical science, it might surprise some that a condition as prevalent as a migraine headache is something that we still don't have a cure for. Sure, we've linked it to several disorders and have painkillers that help us temporarily get rid of the problem. But, we haven't really found a way to prevent migraines. These recurring headaches, which are usually accompanied by nausea and disturbed vision, can be debilitating and while there's no cure for them right now, a solution might just be around the corner. Samanth Subramanian and Padmaparna Gosh find out more in this episode of The Intersection.
This week's story starts on a seemingly unrelated note - Neville Wadia and his Bangalore-Mumbai bicycle ride that aimed to raise awareness and funds for cancer. His desire to go on this trip stemmed from an incident that occurred much earlier, when Neville was only 7-years-old - his uncle was diagnosed with prostate cancer. However, it's what Neville found out after his ride that Samanth and Padma are interested in.
Neville realised that certain conditions and diseases were more prevalent in the Parsi community, which he hails from. A 2006 report by the Bombay Cancer Registry says that the rates of cancer in the Parsi population were around twice the rates for the rest of Mumbai. This, Padma explains, is probably a tendency that is ingrained in their genes.
This is where the story gets really interesting. Parsis' cultural practice of marrying within the community has resulted in a homogeneous genetic pool, which, as far as science is concerned, offers immense potential to further our understanding of diseases and illnesses. An endogamous community such as that of the Parsis, offers an inbred line of genes that makes it easier to find disease-causing genetic mutations. In a heterogeneous population, on the other hand, it would be akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
And, this is what Bangalore-based biotech firm Avesthagen and Australia's Queensland University of Technology (QUT) aim to do for migraines. The company has, over the years, collected around 4,500 samples of Parsi genomes, which combined with a genetic marker for migraines (supplied by QUT), might help us come up with a treatment that targets the gene that causes migraines.
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