Roberta Guevara
Director General
Laboratorio Biogen
View from the Top

Mexican Lab Aims to Train Future Geneticists

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 11:38

The mapping of human DNA opened the door to new medical approaches and to a better understanding of known diseases. Cytogenetic testing, the study of chromosomes, has provided doctors new tools to identify and fight diseases. While there is still much to be done, the field offers multiple benefits, says Roberto Guevara, Director General of Laboratorio Biogen. “Genetics plays an important role in every medical area, from immunology to pediatrics.”

Companies like Laboratorio Biogen, which has been spearheading cytogenetics research since 1986, have a role to play in providing affordable testing services while also educating Mexico’s future geneticists to help the country contribute to global research efforts, says Guevara. “We have trained many doctors, chemists and biologists in the area of genetics.” This is also beneficial for Laboratorio Biogen as former students know where to refer a patient, Guevara adds. The lab will take part in the 18th actualization course on human genomics taught by national experts in the area, which will focus on quality control in the teaching area of genetics, classical and molecular and cygenic biology.

Cytogenetics has come a long way in the last two decades and is now an important tool to study human diseases. This research field allows geneticists to label the chromosomal location of any gene, determine if specific regions of chromosomes have been lost or gained and the subsequent implications on specific diseases. There is still much work to be done, says Guevara, whose laboratory performs a broad series of clinical analyses, including paternity tests, amniocentesis, bone marrow, karyotypes triple marker, mass sequencing and micro-ranges. “Cancer is one of the largest research challenges in the world and Laboratorio Biogen is part of those research efforts.”

This branch of medicine allows scientists to map genes to specific chromosomes or regions. Humans generally have 23 chromosomal pairs and their deviations can be directly related to several diseases; for instance, Turner Syndrome occurs when an individual is missing an X chromosome, while an extra chromosome 21 is associated with Down Syndrome. “A common problem we see is gender assignation with newborns who show genital ambiguity as they might be XXY or X instead of XX or XY. We also perform prenatal tests to identify Down Syndrome and other genetic conditions,” says Guevara, who adds that the laboratory mostly conducts these types of tests because public healthcare institutions are unable to meet the demand for them.

Guevara hastens to add that the role of chromosomes in many diseases is still being studied. “There are specific markers for leukemia in children and adults, but through the use of fluorescent in-situ hybridization (FISH) we can detect their presence in specific individuals. Our efforts have supported research groups collaborating with Novartis for the generation of a series of medications targeting specific types of leukemia,” he says. FISH uses fluorescently labeled probes that attach to specific parts of a chromosome, allowing researchers to identify particular DNA sequences using a microscope. This technique is used to diagnose several diseases including Down Syndrome, cri-du-chat syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome and some types of leukemia. “Our laboratory in Mexico City has all the necessary capabilities to take and measure samples. We recently acquired a computerized microscope that is programmed with chromosome recognition software and image capturing for FISH. This was necessary as we are performing a growing number of studies.”

Laboratorio Biogen used to hold the lion’s share of the market, but a growing number of laboratories are entering and growing thanks to agreements with public hospitals. As competition heats up, the laboratory’s goal is to offer accessible services to low-income individuals, says Guevara, while remaining at the forefront of technology. “We are among the few laboratories in Mexico with capabilities for hybridization in-situ tests. Laboratorio Biogen performed the first study of micro-arrangements in Mexico alongside the National Institute of Genomic Medicine and our objective is to continue bringing new technology to the country, such as other molecular techniques.”