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Longevity Briefs: Treating Disease With ‘Epigenomic Controllers’

Posted on 12 April 2021

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: We now possess gene editing techniques that allow us to add, replace, or delete individual genes within living cells. This not only gives us the potential to cure certain inherited genetic diseases, but may also be used to treat some non-inherited conditions – for example, by reversing mutations that occur in cancer. However, gene editing does carry the risk of damaging healthy genes, and so it is preferable to develop treatments that alter the expression of genes, rather than changing the genes themselves.

What did the researchers do: A company called Omega Therapeutics is working on a new class of treatments called epigenomic controllers. These treatments are designed to target regions of DNA called Insulated Genomic Domains, or IGDs. These are segments of DNA that form loops containing ‘neighbourhoods’ of genes and their regulators. Epigenomic controllers are able to target these IGDs with high precision, tuning the activity of those genes up or down without making permanent changes to the DNA. You can watch Omega Therapeutics’ video about this biotechnology here.

Omega Therapeutics have classified roughly 15000 IGDs in the human genome using a system of genomic ‘zip codes’.

The company’s current focus is to use this technology to develop a treatment for liver cancer. Further down the line, they plan to explore treatments for other cancers and for inflammatory diseases such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), in which changes to IGDs can result in the expression of inflammatory molecules becoming ‘supercharged’.

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