Dr. Geoff Hicks
BY JOEL SCHLESINGER
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012
Winnipeg has long been a leader in the
world of genetic research. Dr. Geoff Hicks is
building on that tradition.
More than a decade ago, the Director of
the Regenerative Medicine Program at the
University of Manitoba's Faculty of Medicine
returned home from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology to do what many
others in the research community thought was
years away from being possible: functionally
mapping the genetics of human disease.
At the time, it was widely thought it would
take years if not decades. But Hicks found a
way to do it in a matter of days. And he has a
mouse to thank for his success.
It's a special kind of rodent - one called a
"knock-out mouse." Hicks and his team didn't
invent the knock-out mouse - a lab animal
that has one of its 22,000 genes either muted
or expressed to emulate disease in humans.
What he did was find a shortcut to identify the
genes involved in the cause of disease.
He looked at gene sequences instead of
single genes, which advanced the hunt for the
genetic causes of disease ahead of schedule
by decades. In fact, Hicks's work became
a foundational part of genomic research
(studying all genes at the same time). And
that success helped lead to the foundation of
the world-renowned Mammalian Functional
Genomics Centre in Winnipeg - one of only
four in the world.
Today, the centre has stem cell models
to breed lab mice specifically designed for
research on thousands of different human
genetic variations of disease.
"In the last four years, we've gone from a
handful of knock-out mouse models being
available to one now being available for almost
every gene," he says. This has helped move
research for cures from the test tube to living
organisms - mice - with which we share most
of our genetic makeup.
"We can now determine from studying
these mice that if you have this gene variation,
you might be susceptible to this disease, or
that this particular treatment may work for
you or be very harmful," he says. "It's really
helped usher in the age of personalized
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Read the November / December 2012 issue of Wave