Current clinical studies on epigenetic reprogramming therapy
At the start of life, organisms have near-limitless potential. An embryo, formed effectively from a single cell, eventually divides and differentiates into the trillions of cells that make up a fully mature organism, whether that organism might be a spider, a fish, a bird, or a human child.
Scientists use the term totipotency to refer to the original state at which the embryo still has the potential to differentiate and divide into an organism’s component tissues. For the most part, it has been a one-way process. Scientists such as the developmental biologist C. H. Waddington have likened the cell differentiation process to a ball rolling down into a valley. Once a particular path for the metaphorical ball has been chosen, rolling back up the path and into a different portion of the valley is not very likely. But that has begun to change.
Advancements in science and further study of the human genome have given rise to the possibility of redoing a cell’s differentiation path, effectively renewing its potential to define what it will become. This is known as epigenetic reprogramming, in which cells are effectively rewritten back to their totipotential state, and then allowed to differentiate and divide once again. This has widespread practical applications in almost every field of medicine, from oncology to rehabilitative medicine, and has developed its own branch of regenerative medicine known as epigenetic reprogramming therapy.
Below are some of the most recent developments in this cutting-edge field of medicine.
Epigenetic reprogramming for treatment of therapy-resistant cancers
Cancer refers to a whole family of diseases that can affect almost any body part. These diseases kill millions of people a year, and those that do recover from them are often left with life-altering and debilitating conditions. These survivors live under the constant threat of a relapse because of the difficulty of eradicating every cancer cell from the body.
Hope is on the horizon, though. A paper published by a host of researchers from Germany and sponsored by the German Cancer Consortium has shown promising results in finding a solution to the cancer treatment conundrum. Certain forms of prostate cancer had been difficult to treat in the past because total eradication of all cancer cells was nearly impossible, even with the latest treatments. Any leftover cells would eventually become resistant to future treatments and, after multiplying, would infect the patient with a radiotherapy-resistant form of cancer.
The German researchers’ study, on the other hand, has demonstrated some success in rewriting these cancer cells that have been rendered resistant to radiotherapy, deleting their resistances altogether so that they are more responsive to it.
Epigenetic drugs as treatments themselves
Epigenetic programming therapy is not used only to support more traditional curative modalities. In certain applications, it is itself curative, such as in this study about the development of epigenetic drugs. The researchers updated current literature surrounding epigenetic drugs, specifically in relation to their application for inhibiting cancer growth and preventing the spread of tumors to other parts of the body.
Epi-drugs, as the study refers to them, are also seen as an important part of customized treatments for patients with forms of cancer that have proven resistant to more traditional therapies.
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