Epigenetic modification and everyday life. Four founders, six weeks into the Rebel Bio accelerator program, and Chronomics has brought consumer epigenetic testing into the world! With another six weeks to go in the Imperial College based accelerator, our platform is taking shape and the focus is on attracting investors and growing our awesome cadre of early adopters. We’ve found nothing more vindicating than finding passionate people who share our vision and express a need for our platform — the first direct to consumer personalised health and wellness service based on epigenetics. So why are people signing up to store snapshots of their DNA with Chronomics already? A “Snapshot” of DNA, isn’t that an oxymoron? And what does that have to do with everyday life?
It’s all about changing your DNA, or 'epigenetic modification'. Not just the genes you’re born with, but how you use them. Epigenetics is the science of modifications to our DNA that do not change the underlying code. In nature, epigenetic modifications are a form of adaptability that allow one genome to diversify into a multitude of cell types and enable adaptation to environmental challenges than evolution by natural selection permits. Today, scientists and doctors are beginning to realise the sheer scope of the influence epigenetics has over our health and wellbeing. The patterns of epigenetic modifications that decorate our DNA influence and are influenced by adult life stresses, ill health, and environmental exposures like diet, smoking, pollution, exercise and many more factors. This malleability of DNA markers is what makes epigenetics so exciting from a proactive health management perspective. Unlike the A’s, T’s, C’s, and G’s of your genetic code, your epigenetic code, which includes patterns of DNA methylation, is not fixed from birth. As it changes, so too do associated predictions of health, wellbeing, and lifestyle exposures. This is why our early adopters are so excited to snapshot their DNA with Chronomics — they are taking their first steps to track the imprint of their lives on their DNA.
What can epigenetics tell us about our everyday lives? Epigenetic changes associated with diseases such as cancer can provide powerful early prediction tools that may allow early intervention. Equally, epigenetic changes associated with lifestyle and environmental risk factors can be used to trigger preventative, proactive healthcare. Factors that have been shown to alter epigenetic patterns include nutrition, tobacco smoking, physical activity, alcohol, obesity, pollution, antidepressants and other drugs, psychological stress, chronic fatigue and lack of sleep.
Stress dominates our modern lives. Compounded with poor diets, sedentary lifestyles, blue screen induced insomnia, pollution, and other factors, we are sitting on a chronic disease time bomb. Stress hormones serve a vital purpose in fight or flight reactions, but sustained elevated levels are associated with chronic disease, a weakened immune system, obesity, many cancers, and impaired mental health. Sustained exposure to glucocorticoids and cortisol has been shown to induce predictable changes in epigenetic patterns. My own experience with chronic disease that nearly cost me my PhD involved an inflammatory condition that lay dormant, until triggered undoubtedly by a sustained period of work and non-work related stress. Psoriasis is a complex autoimmune disease that involves multiple genes and pathways of the immune system being misregulated, but why had it not surfaced until then? Why did some parts remain clear while other parts were afflicted? Epigenetic changes to genes involved in inflammatory pathways and cell differentiation have been linked to the pathogenesis of psoriasis, and would have had a role in determining the rate of spread and also recovery. The progression of chronic diseases are, by definition, slow, therefore it very difficult to separate lifestyle and work from health without a decisive moment to act upon until it is too late and things have progressed to breaking point. Had I been aware that my epigenome was in all likelihood shifting towards an at risk state, I may have been able to put my health above all else and take preventative action.
So, what could you do if a test indicated that your epigenome bore the hallmarks of poor diet, chronic stress, or smoking and was beginning to resemble the epigenome of someone in a pre-diabetes state, at high risk of heart disease, or at risk of psoriatic inflammation? Just how plastic is the epigenome and can you influence your health and wellbeing by leading healthier lifestyles? Research over the past decade indicates that interventions such as quitting smoking and reducing BMI can cause at the very least a part reversion to a normal, healthy epigenotype. Exercise in particular has far reaching epigenetic influence to reduce morbidity from a wide range of diseases, and in my case a combination of reformed diet, counselling, mindfulness, and exercise did more to reset my body in the long term that any of the steroids or harsh immune system suppressants I was prescribed. And therein lies the power of personalization — I’ve met many people professing different cures and remedies that worked for them, but everyone is unique. I am excited and intrigued to take my first epigenetic snapshot right so I can see which lifestyle factors are most important for me.
The start up journey is roller coaster, but we are bringing epigenetics into mainstream personalised health and wellbeing. Please keep following us for the latest news on Chronomics, and get in touch with any questions!
Toby Call is a co-founder at Chronomics