Fresh insights into the way genes communicate could lead to new treatments for immune system diseases.
New research has found that the network by which genes interact with each other is more complicated than previously thought.
The study opens up a new field of scientific research that could lead to treatments for diseases such as myeloid leukaemia and arthritis.
The research is published in Nature Genetics.
The work has been carried out by scientists at the University’s Roslin Institute, who are working as part of an international team.
The group studied the genes involved with white blood cells called macrophages, which, when healthy, cleanse the body of viruses and bacteria.
But, if uncontrolled, they can turn against the body’s own tissue to cause conditions such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
It was previously thought that these cell growth processes were managed by a select group of master, regulator genes that give instructions to many other genes.
Instead, the team found there are actually hundreds of regulator genes, which all instruct each other.
Watch an interview with Prof David Hume about the implications of the research.
To view this video you will need Adobe Flash Player installed on your computer.
The team hopes the work may provide clues on how to stop the growth of tumours or enable the growth of health cells.
They plan to extend the project to look at the way genes communicate to control immunity in livestock animals with new funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
The team has recruited a key member of the international team from Australia to continue the project in Scotland.
This study has effectively shown us where the brakes are that could stop or slow down diseases like cancer and multiple sclerosis. We genuinely believe this could lead to treatments and cures for many diseases of the immune system.
The study was conducted as part of the FANTOM (Functional Annotation of the Mammalian cDNA) consortium.
This involves scientists at The Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh, the Omics Science Center (OSC) of the RIKEN Yokohama Institute, Japan.
A number of others from research centres and universities in Australia, Switzerland, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Singapore, and the United States are also involved.