When it comes to epigenetics, keep your optimism under control

If you’ve been hoping that research in the field of epigenetics is going to bring us a cure for prostate cancer in the next few years, dream on!

The term “epigenetics” refers to inheritable changes in the phenotype or physical expression of a specific gene caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence.

A recent article in The Scientist gives the skinny on the exact state of drug discovery within the epigenetics/biotech community. Basically, it’s barely got off of the starting blocks — although where it has done so it is at least in the cancer arena.

On the up-side, “The epigenome regulates transcription, so eventually, epigenetics can be targeted for almost any kind of disease,” says researcher Yi Zhang of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (The “epigenome” is a term used to describe the overall epigenetic state of a specific cell.)

On the down-side, “It’s hard not to wonder whether the promise of epigenetic drugs is as overhyped as the promise of drugs based on genomics, which have delivered a disappointing yield,” writes Alla Katsnelson (paraphrasing people like Mark Levin, the former CEO of Millennium Pharmaceuticals and now a venture capitalist).

3 Responses

  1. I read an excellent book on genetics, written for simpletons like me, which highlighted just how little is really known and which essentially echoed what Donald Rumsfeld said when he was Secretary of Defense.

    “The message is that there are known knowns — there are things that we know that we know. There are known unknowns — that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know. And each year we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.”

  2. Being a retired cryptologist, I was able to decipher your post, Terry (grin). The knowns we know as well as the knowns we know we don’t know as well as the unknowns we don’t know, means we still have a lot of unknowns to know.

    I think.

    Yet, though it will unlikely occur in our remaining lifetime, it is gratifying to know our scientsts are diligently pursuing these unknowns so that one day there may be that important breakthrough that will serve those following the journeys we were unfortunate to have traveled.

  3. I’m very happy to read that two of the most knowledgeable prostate cancer persons I know concur in such an intriguing matter.

    Greetings for both of you


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