Bangalore lab chases the genes behind tongue cancer
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Compared to China's BGI, which employs 200 gene sequencers and 2,500 professionals, India's first venture into large-scale gene sequencing is humble. Ganit (Genomics Application and Informatics Technology) Labs, a Rs-15-crore public-private-partnership venture, uses a couple of next-generation sequencers and employs about 15 full-time people
Yet the Bangalore-based Ganit has set about tackling a few indigenous issues: finding the genetic basis of oral cancer, specifically tongue cancer, and finding out what in the genetics of the neem plant makes it such a popular natural remedy.
In September, Ganit Labs, a joint venture between Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology, along with one of India's first genomics and informatics companies, Strand Life Sciences, and the state and central governments, announced the complete sequencing of the neem genome and is now working on the genetic basis of tongue cancer.
"The tongue is a very interesting case because as you know most of the cases of oral cancer is caused by habits - smoking, chewing tobacco, gutkha. Available data from our registry in India and the registry in the US shows that the number of people affected by tongue cancer is very high among the younger population — particularly below the age of 45 — and is increasing while the case of other subsets of oral cancer is actually slowly decreasing," says Ganit Labs head Dr Binay Panda, a Ph D in molecular virology from Oxford University and an American Cancer Society postdoctorate.
Dr Panda, a senior vice president at Strand Life Sciences, says Ganit is chasing the genes behind tongue cancer also because there is new evidence to show that the cancer is increasingly appearing even among people with no habits like smoking, chewing tobacco or gutkha. "We assume that there are some genetic signatures and that will be interesting to find out," he says. "Many, many people, particularly all genome centres, are studying cancer but we are one of the few studying oral cancer because it is prevalent in our country."
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