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DNA Variants Found To Underlie Common Diseases

Applying a new genomic technique to a large group of patients, researchers in Britain have detected DNA variations that underlie seven common diseases, discovering unexpected links between them.

The variations pinpoint biological pathways underlying each of the diseases, and researchers hope that as the pathways are analyzed, new drugs and treatments will emerge.

The seven common diseases are bipolar disorder, coronary artery disease, Crohn's disease, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, and Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Unveiling the complex genetics of common diseases was the promised payoff of the $3 billion human genome project, completed in 2003, but progress was slow until the recent development of devices that in a single operation can read the DNA sequence at up to 500,000 points across an individual's genome.

With the devices, called chips, researchers can compare large numbers of patients with healthy individuals, looking for points of differences in their genomes that may be associated with disease.

The approach is known as whole genome association, and studies on Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer have been reported within the last few weeks. Those and the new study, which was financed by the Wellcome Trust of London, demonstrate the power and reliability of the whole genome association method, which stands in contrast to the many uncorroborated claims of disease genes made previously.

Pakistani Police Arrest 300 Workers From Opposition Parties

The police have arrested more than 300 political party workers over the past few days in a crackdown before a protest planned this week against new government curbs on the news media, a government official acknowledged on Wednesday.

Opposition parties have said hundreds of their workers have been rounded up in house raids in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province.

The home secretary of Punjab, Khusro Fazal Khan, told the independent channel GEO Television that the police had arrested 312 local political leaders and workers throughout the province.

Opposition legislators protested the arrests at the opening of a new session of the national Parliament, which had been on a three-week recess, but they were refused time by the speaker. Journalists covering Parliament staged a rowdy protest in the press gallery on Wednesday evening, interrupting the debate on the floor.

The president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, signed a decree on Monday giving a government regulating agency stronger powers over the news media and the ability to rewrite regulations without recourse to Parliament.

The decree added to the pressure on the three main private television channels, which have been told to stop live coverage and live political talk shows. Their transmissions were blocked for several days across much of the country.

Sudanese Lawyers Study For War Crimes Trials

As international pressure increases over the situation in Darfur, Sudanese lawyers are looking ahead to the day when victims of mass rape and torture seek justice in tribunals like the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The court in April issued arrest warrants for two Sudanese men charged with planning and taking part in war crimes in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have lost their homes in fighting between government-backed forces and rebels. Sudan has refused to turn over the suspects, including a government minister.

But an unusual training program in London this week is bringing together Sudanese lawyers with U.S. and European legal experts to discuss ways to be heard at the court.

"The situation in Darfur is absolutely appalling," said Hyat Musa Suliman, a lawyer and human rights advocate who counsels rape victims and others in refugee camps in northern Darfur, speaking through an interpreter. "I hope the procedures and trials of the ICC will bring back the confidence of the people in the justice system."

Suliman is one of nine Sudanese lawyers who have traveled to London to take part in the weeklong program, organized by the litigation section of the American Bar Association. Experts from the association, nongovernmental organizations and the International Criminal Court explain the complexities of the court, and a mock trial is set for Friday.

Prudential Financial to Close Equity Research and Sales Unit

For years, Prudential Financial has been trying to figure out what to do with its small, struggling equity research and sales business. On Wednesday, the company said it had decided to shut it down.

About 420 people will be laid off, with most of the cuts coming in New York. Offices will also be closing in Zurich, Paris and Tokyo, as well as several others in the United States.

The unit, the Prudential Equity Group, sold equity research reports about stocks, the economy and politics and offered securities trading to domestic and international institutional customers.

The company, based in Newark, N.J., had been downsizing and restructuring the Prudential Equity Group for years, dabbling in investment banking and the retail brokerage sector, which could support the research and trading operations. But the division never found its niche, and the company discontinued investment banking and retail brokerage, leaving research and sales as a corporate orphan.

Last year, it had $260 million in revenue, a small chunk of the $32.49 billion the company had in overall sales.

"We were not able to reach the scale we wanted to in the long term," said Theresa Miller, a Prudential spokeswoman.