The decoding of the human genome in 2003 came to be a cornerstone in the field of life sciences. Scientists believed to have found the ultimate answer to how our cells are programmed. But in the following years, it has become clear that genes are not the only factors to regulate the many different functions of the human body.
What is Epigenetic research ?
Epigenetics is the youngest discipline within the area of life sciences. The term came up in the 1940s and is composed of the word “genetics” and the Greek prefix “epi” meaning “additional”. Epigenetics deals with a highly complex mechanism within our cells that regulates the activity of our genes. Each single cell contains the complete genetic blueprint of the individual human being. Yet, given the specialised function of a cell, only a part of the genetic information is switched on, i.e. it is regulated by certain epigenetic processes. Apart from those functional modifications, changes in gene expression may also be caused by external factors such as environmental impacts, alimentation or stress.
Why Epigenetic research?
In the recent past, it has become clear that epigenetic programming is closely linked to human health and disease. This means that epigenetic aberrations have significant implications for widespread diseases like diabetes or cancer. Once we come to understand how and why changes in gene expression occur, we will be able to better treat and prevent those diseases. Thus, customised treatments can be offered according to the epigenetic profile of the individual patient. This would be a major breakthrough in personalized medicine, a clinical approach which has proven very promising in recent years.