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Powerful new tool for studying brain development

Scientists at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital have given investigators around the world free access to a powerful tool for studying brain development. The Internet-based tool, called the mouse Brain Gene Expression Map (BGEM), is one of the largest gene expression maps of an organ ever developed, according to the St. Jude researchers. They say the map will likely help scientists discover the genetic origins of brain cancers, which could speed development of novel drugs to treat them.

The continual updating and completion of the BGEM Web site will be crucial to scientists. More than half of the approximately 25,000 genes in the mouse are thought to be involved in the development and function of the nervous system, but scientists have determined the function of only 30 percent of them. Many brain disorders, such as tumors and some psychiatric diseases, are also believed to be caused by gene mutations that arise during development of this complex organ.

A report on the development and availability of the BGEM appears in the March 28 issue of PLoS Biology. The Web site is http://www.stjudebgem.org/

The similarity of the mouse and human brain make this map useful to researchers who study the development of the human brain and the origin of brain tumors from gene mutations, according to Tom Curran, Ph.D., co-chair of Developmental Neurobiology at St. Jude. "The BGEM represents a new strategy for exchanging information among researchers that will accelerate our understanding of the human nervous system," he said. "I foresee a time when researchers will be able to do certain studies to confirm hypotheses using a computer interface that links our data to many other kinds of gene information, without the need to go into a regular laboratory."

The BGEM is a growing, encyclopedic collection of tens of thousands of images as seen through a microscope. The images are obtained at distinct time point
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Source:St. Jude Children's Research Hospital


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