A Change for the better?

3 Jul 2014

Could your current decisions as to where you live, what you eat and what you do affect your health in later life? Could these choices in turn shape the outcome of your children's lives, or even the lives of your grandchildren? The answers to questions such as these may be unearthed in the study of epigenetics.

Conrad Waddington first defined the term epigenetics in the early 1940s. The definition has evolved since then, and now refers to a reversible heritable phenotype resulting from changes in a chromosome without alterations in the DNA sequence. These changes can be developmental or can result from environmental factors. Epigenetic regulation of gene expression establishes normal cellular phenotypes but can also be associated with diseases, including cancer and leukaemia, neurodegenerative conditions and neuropsychiatric disorders.

There are two main epigenetic mechanisms: DNA methylation and histone modification (predominantly acetylation, methylation, phosphorylation), which can work in tandem. Changes can affect whether the DNA code can be used to make proteins or not, or whether a gene is turned on or off.

Our increasing knowledge can be used to our advantage to create innovative therapeutics.  For example drugs could be created which target the epigenetic changes in diseases like cancer. Chemical probes are being developed to study the mechanisms of genomic functions. Novel mechanisms, biomarkers, technologies and diagnostics can also be explored.

Introduction to Epigenetic Drug Discovery, organised by SCI's Young Chemists' Panel, will take place on Wednesday 22 October 2014 at SGC in Oxford. Experts in the field, from both industry and academia, will cover this expanding area. Topics will include the development of chemical probes, particular drug targets involving epigenetics, and the approaches used to find epigenetic modulators. The day will conclude with a question and answer session involving all of the speakers.

The event is aimed at postgraduates and those beginning their careers in industry who wish to have a greater understanding of the fundamentals of the role of epigenetics in drug discovery. The session is sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline and supported by GlaxoSmithKline's Epinova DPU and SGC Oxford.

Dr Susan Brittain

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