Epigenomes are a relatively new discovery in Biology and there is a lot of well deserved excitement about it. Manolis Kellis, an MIT biologist, believes that epigenomes may lead us to the cure of Alzheimer’s and cancer. By understanding epigenomes, we could “reverse the actions of chemical modifications that regulate genes associated with disease”. A study was done on mice to see which genetic mutations were active for certain traits. Surprisingly, the research paired Alzheimer’s to neurons and immune cells. This could potentially mean that the place to look for a cure to Alzheimer’s is in your neurons or immune cells. Since this experiment was done on mice, it isn’t certain that the same will be true for humans, but Kellis believes it is more likely than not.
A second study was done to see which parents passed on which chromosomes. Some chromosomes tend to overpower the other, being dominant. For example, a mother chromosome that is positive for Alzheimer’s might be recessive to a father chromosome that is negative for Alzheimer’s. If scientist can determine the pattern of inheritance, they can predict the likelihood of a child inheriting that gene with greater accuracy.
Research was also done on cancer cells as they tried to figure out the origin of cancers that spread across the body, specifically metastatic cancer. When this cancer spreads it can be tough for doctors to determine the origin cell. If the origin cell can be located using epigenetics, it can increase the accuracy of locating the parent cell to 90%.
Kellis reminds us that it would be years before a cure is found as drug testing and creation are complex. And as we know epigenomes change from environmental factors leading to a vast amount of possibilities making it an even more complex process. However, this is a big step in the right direction.