DirectorsTalk caught up with Dr Alexandre Akoulitchev, Chief Scientific Officer at Oxford Biodynamics PLC (LON:OBD) about the ‘The Key Role of Epigenetics in Human
Disease Prevention and Mitigation’ review by Andrew P. Feinberg, M.D., M.P.H.
“I would like to acknowledge a very thoughtful and timely review on epigenetics in New England Journal of Medicine from Andrew Feinberg, John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The OBD team is attending ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) 2018 meeting in Chicago, and introducing to the field its epigenetic biomarker approach based on high order chromatin architecture, based on chromosome conformation readouts in blood. Everyone’s attention at ASCO is focused on current unresolved challenges facing the field of oncology. This review by a prominent clinical specialist points at the very fundamental role played by epigenetics in mitigation, early detection and prognosis of oncological conditions. How timely to see the value of epigenetic approach, followed by OBD, to be recognized in the context of practical stratification questions by oncologists.
Andrew rightly points out that since every cell of the body contains the same full genetic load, cellular identity, fundamentally is an epigenetic phenomenon. Of the three layers of epigenetic regulation Andrew pays most attention to DNA methylation, but introduces also histone modifications and high order chromatin architecture – the OBD biomarker modality.
While traditional examples of primary tumours were historically associated with a number of disease driving mutations, no driving mutations have been discovered for metastatic growth, while defective metabolism of cancer cells has been recognized to play a role of epigenetic modulator for metastatic growth. Outside of epigenetic controls, gene variants appear to constitute only a small part of heritable disease risk. These are hard truths, as stated in the review, for the overall perspectives in diagnostic and prognostic tools tests based on sequencing of genetic variants. On the other hand, in the opinion of clinical specialists, approaches capturing epigenetic changes offer a valuable tool for both diagnostic and prognostic assessments.
Very encouraging to see in the review an appraisal for epigenome wide association studies (EWAS), with epigenetic readouts identifying regulatory role of loci not apparent from genetic data sets. These are the very approaches that OBD has been exploiting with its EpiSwitchTM technology. Robust patient stratifications developed by OBD on the basis of its epigenetic biomarkers and EpiSwitchTM technology, receive a timely justification through recognition of the fundamental central role played by epigenetic controls in disease development and progression.”