The Epigenetics Revolution
Pros: mostly fascinating, cutting edge info
Cons: very scientifically detailed
I like to stay updated on what’s happening in the field of medicine and so recently I checked on amazon.com for books about gene therapy. When I discovered The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance by epigeneticist Nessa Carey, published in 2012, I was immediately intrigued and anxious to read it. I’m not a scientist of any kind, but do enjoy challenging my mind so I can learn something new that few people have probably even heard of. I know I hadn’t.
You’ve heard of genes, right? Our DNA, blueprint, genetic code? You get some from your mother, some from your father, to create your physical and mental self. They cannot be changed if you don’t like them, but that’s not the whole story behind them. Since about 1990 scientists have been dabbling in the revolutionary field of epigenetics, aware that our genes become expressed differently to account for biological diversity. For example, identical twins never develop very similarly – one may suffer a disease and the other remain healthy. Carey argues that simply mapping our genetic code isn’t enough to understand how we are susceptible to disease or deformity because our genes are influenced by certain positive and negative factors and outwardly changed by them.
It begins before we’re born and continues as we age, especially influenced by traumatic events like childhood abuse or neglect and malnourishment in the womb or as a teen as shown by Carey. Good nutrition, managed stress, and pesticide avoidance are recommended as well as possibly supplementing with royal jelly and resveratrol because of their ability to be positive epigenetic factors. I did further research on freeze-dried royal jelly and am excited about what it offers.
I was disappointed that London-based Carey didn’t mention the potential of the first epigenetic drugs regenerating the damaged spinal cord, but the science is in its infancy and only taking unsteady, baby steps after an accidental death from premature gene therapy late last century. Pharmaceutical companies have made hefty investments in research and development of drugs to treat cancer and Carey predicts that by next year they’ll be available, followed five years later by drugs for other diseases. There’s so much they don’t know yet, but epigenetic therapy to switch on protective genes or switch off repressive genes does sound very promising. It could be a real gamechanger for people who are fighting diseases, inherited disabilities, and maybe even neurological injuries like my own.
Carey says on her website that The Epigenetics Revolution was written for the layperson with an interest in science, but it’s still challenging to read. There are sixteen, very detailed chapters about different aspects of the research that gave me a broad view of what they knew when the substantial book was published. She says she knows one thing for sure, that the epigenetics revolution is underway, and I’m very glad it is.