Posted by: Sophie Khatib9 NOV 2012
I must admit, I had never heard of epigenetics until this week so I have done what any scientist would: started a literature search on the topic.
I can’t believe how complex and intricate the whole process is and its effect of essentially fine tuning the DNA, switching on various genes. Changes are made that tweak the DNA rather than change any nucleotide sequences. Methylation and histone modification may regulate the expression of some genes without changing the functional units of our genetic material. It has been suggested that these changes to the phenotypes can be passed onto future generations so we have a huge responsibility not only to ourselves, but also to our future generations. These changes in expression could be regulatory changes to tumourigenic genes or even linked with diabetes risk.
Not only is this really interesting to read, but it opens a huge door for pharmacy. Knowing that these epigenetic factors are modifiable by diet, pharmaceuticals and environmental chemicals, it would be obvious to suggest that pharmacists have a huge role in understanding and carrying out this research. This would enable not only hospital pharmacists, but community pharmacists as well, to provide information and education to patients regarding their modifiable disease risk. With developments in technology, pharmacists could also be the ones to carry out the testing and science behind the theory. It would allow pharmacists be become more scientific in their job role and ultimately reduce the prevalence of some diseases.
Epigenetics are of extreme significance in cancer treatment. They may be utilised as an adjunct to traditional cancer therapies, either chemotherapy or radiotherapy, to increase the chances of a patients survival. It has been shown that the epigenetic control of the proto-oncogene regions and the tumor suppressor sequences by conformational changes in histones directly affects the formation and progression of cancer. Pharmacists could lead the research to find drugs or environmental changes that could affect the expression of these genes and revolutionise the treatment of cancer.
But until then, there is much more reading to be done......