Free screening for giantism gene in North

Tue, Feb 5, 2013, 00:00

A free genetic screening programme has opened for those originally from east Tyrone and south Derry in the search for a gene that can cause giantism.

Northern Ireland is famous for its Giant’s Causeway in north Antrim, but little was known about an inherited gene for excessive growth until it was first identified in 2011.

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast and Queen Mary, University of London hope to change this with a free screening programme focused on the Tyrone/Derry region, the area where the gene, called AIP, was first found.

Most people who carry the gene will have no health effect, said Prof Patrick Morrison of Queen’s in Belfast.

Pituitary gland

It can, however, cause abnormal growth of the pituitary gland, causing it to release too much growth hormone.

The gene caused an 18th century man from near Cookstown, Charles Byrne, the “Irish Giant”, to reach a remarkable 2.3m.

“People with the gene may not necessarily be tall but they may have other health conditions which could be linked to this altered gene,” Prof Morrison said.

This makes it important for those carrying the gene to be aware, and why general screening will help, said lead researcher Prof Marta Korbonits at Barts and Queen Mary in London.


“Testing in the general public will tell us more about how widespread the condition has become. But further than that, it will enable us to help those carrying the mutation by providing better advice and medical follow-up to prevent disease in their family,” said Prof Korbonits.

Free screening is offered on February 8th- 9th from 8am-8pm in Tesco car park, Cookstown, and March 1st-2nd, 8am-8pm, in Tesco car park, Dungannon.

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