From Mechanism to Intervention
A CSC Symposium has brought 300 of the world’s leading epigenetics researchers to the heart of London. The three-day meeting was held at the Institute of Engineering and Technology, and spanned the full breadth of this burgeoning field. The conference brought researchers working at the molecular core of epigenetics together with those investigating its clinical implications.
Epigenetics is the study of the factors other than the DNA sequence itself that alter how our genes are expressed. The way DNA is packaged up within the cell nucleus, the shape is takes, and the molecules it interacts with all dictate how the genetic instructions are interpreted in our bodies. Scientists around the world are grappling with the complexity of the various epigenetic factors, and how these elements might affect disease and medical practise.
“The meeting brought together the clinical and the basic science researchers,” said Niall Dillon (Gene Regulation and Chromatin), who was one of the organisers of the event. “They come at the subject from two completely different directions, but to be effective they are going to have to meet in the middle. The mechanism is crucial, but so is looking at patients and disease directly. There were some very different perspectives at the meeting, and cross-fertilising those ideas is hugely important.”
For Niall, the conference showed that although there is a long way to go, the field holds great promise. “We’re at the very early stage of something that is very exciting. There is an enormous amount of information coming out of the genomics and basic science work, but finding ways of applying that is a very big challenge. It is becoming apparent that there are tremendous possibilities in terms of clinical applications. This meeting was about getting the basic scientists together with those who are starting the translational process, and seeing how it might be achieved.”
Amongst the plethora of work presented there were hints at the potential of the therapeutic applications of epigenetics. The breadth of the topics covered was striking. From broad perspectives on the place of epigenetics within the wider study of genetics, to detailed analyses of the role of individual proteins in select gene expression, the series of talks gave deep insights into the world of epigenetics. One presenter discussed the initial results of some of the first clinical trials of epigenetic-based therapy in cancer patients, while another examined the potential for targeting factors such as chromatin remodelling as a novel avenue of treatment for patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. A talk that delved into the epigenetic causes of human facial diversity followed a presentation on epigenetic regulation of cell quiescence [the ‘resting’ phase of the cell cycle].
The conference highlighted both how far this field has come in recent years, and also how much further it must go in those to come. But as researchers both here at the CSC and around the world continue to probe these intricate mechanisms, it is clear that the potential is great.