Jim Plante, the founder of Thynk Capital and Pathway Genomics, has made a commitment to helping people stay healthy throughout the aging process. The role of genetics in disease risk and occurrence has always been a topic of fascination for many scientists, and Thynk Capital may provide investment money for research and development. Genetic testing often can verify whether an individual is at elevated risk of an inherited disorder, but it usually does not confirm that the person will indeed be afflicted with the disorder one day.
The science of epigenetics studies effects of the environment on genetic markers. Environmental factors ranging from high-stress jobs to exposure to pesticides have the ability to turn certain disease-causing genes on, so to speak. Epigenetics researchers want to know why one person with a genetic marker who has regular exposure to a specific toxin develops a disease, but another person in similar circumstances does not.
The Potential of Genetic Therapy
Genes also can be turned off once they have been turned on. That factor holds great promise for medicine. Individuals at increased risk of a disease might be cured or treated with genetic therapy that turns that genetic marker off. An example being investigated by Mr. Plante’s companies is polycystic kidney disease, which is inherited and has specific DNA markers. The gene itself would not be altered through the treatment, but the expression of it would be.
Another point is the problem of genes with positive effects being turned off. For example, a tumor suppressor gene may be turned off due to environmental factors. Now this person is at higher risk of developing cancer.
The Broad Range of Epigenetics
Epigenetics does not only involve stressful situations and toxic chemicals. The factors that can alter gene expression have a very broad range, and they are different for each person. Scientists believe that for many individuals, gene expression may be modified by exercise, healthy or unhealthy diets, or chronic lack of sleep. Those are just a few examples. Aging by itself can cause genes to turn on, which explains why so many disabling disorders become significantly more prevalent in older populations.