Iran’s rapid progress in medical genetics

January 23, 2011

TEHRAN -- Education and some research in genetics were carried out in primary stages, in three branches of human and medical genetics, animal genetics and plant genetics, in Iran during the sixties (1960-1970).

Medical and human genetics were limited to the level of observations, case- and clinical reports.
Animal genetics were followed as basic research on Drosophila and plant genetics were at a similar level. Five national congresses were held in Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz, Ahwaz and Mashhad to present the results of the research, with Iranian participants from the fields of medicine, animal biology and botany, and some foreign invited lecturers.
No institution or department existed to lead and coordinate the related education and research; the courses were limited to only few credit hours in various faculties.
The first Department of Human Genetics and Anthropology was founded at the School of Public Health of the University of Tehran, by D D Farhud, in 1972.
No doubt, eight years of war and defending the country, and later the period of reconstruction, have had tremendous effects on the progress and distribution of education, research, and services in different areas of genetics in Iran.
Education Originally, master (Msc) courses in human genetics were established (1990), followed by PhD courses in medical genetics at the Department of Human Genetics and Anthropology, School of Public Health, Tehran University of Medical Sciences(1999). From 2003, master and PhD courses continued at the Department of Medical Genetics, School of Medicine. Gradually, preparations were made at the other institutions and universities in Tehran, such as Pasteur Institute, National Institute of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Universities of Shahid Beheshti, Tavanbakhshi(Rehabilitation), Tarbiat Modarress, Azad Eslami; later on, the provincial universities followed as well.
In this manner, the second generation of genetic specialists were activated in Iran, besides the Iranian geneticists (PhD) who had graduated from other countries and come back to Iran to serve their own country. Research Research was carried out on population genetics and genetic epidemiology, prevalence and distribution of blood groups, serum proteins, red blood cell enzymes (1-4), prevalent disorders such as alpha and beta thalassemia, hemophilia, G6PD deficiency (Favism), PKU, etc (5-8); even anthropological characteristics, like weight and height, head and chest circumferences, menarche and menopause age (9-11), eye color, hair type and color, nose shape, etc in various populations, races, ethnic and religious groups (Moslems, minorities of Zoroastrians, Christians- Armenians and Assyrians– and Jews) were studied in Iran.
As such, the genetic fitures of ethnic, racial and religious minorities in Iran, were investigated and registered in all provinces.
University departments and centers affiliated to them were organized rapidly in the nineties. Some centers like center for Genetic Research and Biotechnology, Pasteur Institute, University of Tavanbakhshi(Rehabilitation) have had higher speed and presented valuable services in providing human resources specialized in medical genetics, carrying out related research and providing some services to patients.
National Institute of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (NIGEB) started in the early nineties affiliated to the Ministry of Sciences, Research and Technology. The major missions are promoting research and higher education in the field of advanced molecular biology and biotechnology, applied research, technology development and technology transfer, technology marketing and protecting the intellectual properties rights. Activities are done in different areas of plant, animal, and industrial biotechnology, research on diagnostic methods for human genetic diseases, human stem cell, stem cell and tissue engineering, bioremediation, metabolic engineering.
Avicenna Research Institute (ARI) was founded in 1998, with the mission in the field of biology, reproductive biotechnology and infertility, consisting three research centers of Reproductive Biotechnology Research Center (RBRC), Monoclonal Antibody Research Center (MARC) and Nanobiotechnology Research Center (NBRC).
ARI has made some achievements in the area of technology of antibody production and has applied it in research and diagnosis, particularly in cancer immunology and immunotherapy.
The Avicenna Infertility Clinic has made progress in basic and clinical fields such as immunology, genetics, embryology, obstetrics and gynecology, urology, endocrinology.
Reproductive Genetics & Biotechnology Department has kept up with the rapid developments of genetic engineering and biotechnology in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
Transgenic technology, cloning, PGD, cell gene therapy are among the new applied techniques. Renowned and well established centers such as Rouyan Research Institute, established in early nineties, by the late S. Kazemi-Ashtiani, carry out research and provide services in infertility, IVF and stem cell, at highly recognized national, regional and in some respect world levels specially in animal cloning.
Another well known center for reproductive biology and infertility is affiliated to Yazd University of Medical Sciences (established and supervised by A Aflatonian) provides services at national and regional levels, with foreign referrals.
National Human Genome Diversity Project of Iran (HGDPI), was started in the nineties (supervised by MH Sanati) and carried out by the scientists at the National Institute for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and collaborations of other scientists from different universities and research centers.
HGDPI has attempted to collect blood samples, prepare and maintain the cell line and map the DNA that maintain the cell line and map the DNA that varies among 18 Iranian ethnic populations.
The main goal of the HGD project lies in its enormous potential in illuminating our understanding of the origin, identity and history of populations living in Iran. The resources created by the HGD project will also provide valuable information on the role played by genetic factors in the predisposition, linkage or resistance to disease. So far the samples have been collected and most part of the experimental work has been done and the results published.
The final results showing the outcome of the project are under preparation. National research project on determination of Hashemzadeh and D D Farhud) was carried out on different ethnic groups in 11 provinces of Iran.
Frequency and type of the GJB2 and DFNB59 gene mutations and frequency of the common GJB2 mutation 35delG were determined(14, 15). It was shown that 71% of the children with deafness were offsprings of consanguineous marriages.
Services About 1990, prenatal diagnosis of Thalassemia was made possible for the first time in Iran, followed by the same procedure for other genetic disorders such as Hemophilia, Duchene Muscular Dystrophy, Cystic Fibrosis, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, etc. Finding various mutations of these disorders were made available with geographical and ethnic distributions, making molecular population genetics possible in Iran.
Nowadays, prenatal diagnosis is possible for most genetic disorders, with carrier detection; particularly those prevalent in Iran and molecular forensic medicine has been taken care of extensively.
Many research projects have been carried out so far, between different research centers of Iran and foreign universities and institutions.
Treatments with stem cell have been made in various fields of Oncology, Ophthalmology, Cardiology, etc. IVF, PGD have been used successfully in prevention of genetic disorders.
Other active research centers in different fields, such as Endocrinology, Gastroenterology, Ophthalmology Cardiology, Cancer, Infertility, etc have good mutual scientific relationship with the genetic centers in the country. Private services The first private Genetic Clinic was established in Tehran with an archive of nearly 60,000 family genetic records in 1975.
Many persons have been referred to Iran from neighboring countries for genetic counseling, carrier detections, prenatal diagnosis of genetic disorders, IVF, PGD, etc. Today there are many centers for genetic counseling and laboratory services in each province of Iran.
Ethics in Medical Genetics Activities in the area of Ethics in Medical Genetics have been started at international and national levels in Iran since 1995(16-22).
Establishing and developing ethical codes in medical genetics and other medical fields have grown very rapidly so far, by many authors from different centers of Iran.
(Source: Avicenna Journal of Medicine