15:45 AEDT Fri 1 Jun 2001
Jokes about inbred, two-headed Tasmanians may be cruel but the island state's narrow gene pool is helping it become a world leader in biotechnological medical research.
Only Iceland, experts say, is a better place to hunt for specific genes linked to a wide range of debilitating diseases.
Tasmania's research ability will be enhanced through the Menzies Centre for Population Research acquiring the computing capacity to swiftly crunch the vast data it has built up about 40,000 Tasmanians over the past 13 years.
Centre director Terry Dwyer said today it was based on a five-year software licence for Genomica Corporation's suite of software tools that enabled the integration, management and analysis of genetic data.
Professor Dwyer said it would be used to identify genes for multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis of the hand, prostate cancer, diabetes, glaucoma and cataracts.
He said the centre - the only Australian organisation with a Genomica licence - could now combine results from epidemiological studies or clinical trials with its genetics database.
Where relevant, for example with multiple sclerosis, lifestyle factors could be added.
Professor Dwyer said Tasmania was ideal for genetic research because it had a stable population with good genealogical and medical records.
About two-thirds of its 470,000 population could trace direct links to the founding families of the early 19th century.
The centre is attracting money from a range of sources.
The state government allocates $500,000 a year and an American philanthropist has donated $1 million.
Australian research and development company Autogen has invested in its diabetes research and Cerylid, a spin-off from Amrad, has backed its multiple sclerosis and osteoarthritis studies.
Professor Dwyer said American pharmaceutical companies were showing a growing interest in its work.
Most were seeking more information about a specific gene and paid on a fee-for-service basis.