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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Epigenetics brighten the future of medical treatments

    You have just been diagnosed with a liver disease, and prescribed a broad course of treatment. But wouldn’t you prefer a treatment specifically targeted to your body?

    This possibility is becoming more of a reality as researchers study epigenetics, a field that could help unlock cures for many diseases affecting us today.

    A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA. An epigenome is made of chemical compounds that act as a set of directions and tell the genome what, where and when to do things. In essence, the epigenome is what determines that your heart cells are heart cells, and that kind of thing.

    These epigenomes are critical in the research field because they are so versatile. They can be altered as a person ages and are greatly affected by one’s environment and lifestyle.

    What is even more fascinating is that epigenome research is happening at the UA BIO5 Institute.

    As part of the “Genomics Now” lecture series, Dr. Donata Vercelli, who is both a professor and the director for the Arizona Center for the Biology of Complex Diseases, discussed the many facets of this field and the impressive strides being made within it.

    Epigenetics often works with different types of stem cells, resulting in a lot of controversy founded upon ignorant assumptions. Stem cell research that would cause an embryo to be destroyed has been illegal since 1995.

    But people are only seeing one side of the debate.

    Stem cells are found in tissue or an organ that is able to renew itself. They have the ability to change into a specialized cell type that is needed in the tissue or organ, and their primary functions are maintainance and repair.

    In theory, researchers can take skin cells from a patient and eventually change them into any type of cell that the patient might need.

    Considering the revolutionary potential of stem cells, we should be looking at them with a more utilitarian philosophy.

    Furthermore, the ethical controversy mainly concerns the use and disposal of human embryos for their embryonic stem cells, but treatments and research using epigenetics usually work with adult stem cells or other types of stem cells found in the adult body, not embryos. They merely take some of the cells found in your body and use them to better treat suffering individuals.

    With continued research in this field, it might be possible to directly manipulate stem cells in the patient through the use of carefully targeted drugs.

    Regardless of the debate, stem cells hold an incredible amount of potential, and research in epigenetics could lead to cures for some of the most damaging diseases we have ever faced.

    — Razanne Chatila is a journalism sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu, or on Twitter via @Razanne92.

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