Scientists Explain How Epigenetics Can Treat Cancer and Reverse Aging (2023)

Have you ever had to flip a switch on your electrical panel because a surge popped that switch to “off”? If you have, then you know that you have main switches that control multiple rooms in the house – or even the entire house. And then you have sub-switches under those that control individual outlets that run along particular walls. Which outlets work depends upon how an electrician wired your home and which walls touch. This is how epigenetics works.

Can you imagine your DNA as your very own electrical panel controlling all your genes, both active and passive? Great! Now imagine that each sub-switch creates different results depending upon which other sub switches you turn on or off at the same time. For example, if you flip one sub-switch, you have blue eyes. Flip on another switch, but turn off the first, and you turn your eyes brown.

That, in very simplistic (though not totally accurate) wording, is how epigenetics works. In a not-so-simplistic way, scientists have been working on all the possibilities that epigenetics can generate for future health. Two of those ways has scientists explaining how epigenetics can treat cancer and reverse aging.

What is epigenetics, and how does it work?

Above, I presented a scenario that defines what epigenetics is in a simplified manner. It is the study of the mechanisms that turn our genes on and off. A more scientific definition, as stated in is this:

“Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes ingene expression(active versus inactive genes) that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence — a change inphenotypewithout a change ingenotype— which in turn affects how cells read the genes.”

Let’s back up here and clarify a few things regarding DNA. Our entire body is made up of cells. The instruction booklets that dictate and regulate how those cells operate reside within our DNA.

Three billion nucleotide bases form the molecules that link together to form the building blocks for our DNA. There are four different types of bases that make up our DNA:

  • Adenine
  • Cytosine
  • Guanine
  • Thymine

The order of these bases are the directions that specify how we live and function in the world. We have about 20,000 genes within three billion bases. Genes are the patterns of those bases that give instructions on how to make the proteins that trigger the actions our body needs to sustain and operate our life.

The “Skinny” on Epigenetics

This where epigenetics comes in. Epigenetics can indirectly determine whether a cell should produce the proteins by influencing how your cells interpret data from the genes. Think of it as when you have a scratched CD. You can’t reach the location of the scratch. Therefore, the player skips it over but plays the rest of it. However, that movie or album is now changed.

Epigenetics can control our genes by specifying to our cells what they are to specialize in – hair color, eye color, skin, etc. Nature determines this.

It can also influence our genes via “nurture” in the manner of our environment influences the stimuli that turn specific genes on or off. Everything we do influences how epigenetic affects us. One of the things that make humans as a species so incredible is our ability to adapt. That is thanks to epigenetics. In turn, that means everything we do, don’t do, are surrounded by, and that we react to, affects our cells and genes. It is also this interplay that makes each one of us unique.

Scientists understand that if they can map all the sequences possible with all 20,000 genes, the possibilities of altering cells that cause diseases and deformities are enormous. It also allows for the possibility to reverse aging, cure cancer, cure obesity, and potentially other deadly diseases.

Studies on epigenetics and aging, cancer and obesity

As stated above, cells have various molecules that attach to themselves, which are used to give directions to our genes. One such molecule is of the methyl-3 group. When it connects to a cell, it is called DNA methylation. That cell then communicates to a gene to “turn itself off,” a process known as hypermethylation.

Studies on Mice

One study demonstrates this behavior. Scientists studied agouti mice that characteristically can be identical twins, but look entirely different in color and size. One mouse was brown and small, and the other was yellow and obese. What the scientists discovered was that, in the regular mouse, the gene controlling those two factors was turned off through methylation. However, in the obese, yellow mouse, genes were not methylated. The yellow mouse also tends to develop diabetes and cancer as adults.

In regards to aging and cancer in humans, several studies have shown that environmental factors strongly affect whether methylation occurs in humans. By environmental, I refer to nutrition and dietary calories. According to some studies, diet appears to be the factor most swaying the results due to its ability to affect the activity and expression of specific genes.

One study focused primarily on nutrition through a caloric reduction in mice. The calorie intake was lessened by 30-40% while maintaining proper nutritional intake. A scientist performed a study in which a mouse placed on such a diet lived longer than a mouse on a regular diet. Additional studies have shown the same results across many different species, including worms, fish, and primates.

The Role of Methyl

Science believes that age plays a role in how methyl is distributed to our cells, decreasing the proper patterns. One theory is that calorie restriction aids in stabilizing our genes. This is because it helps account for how much methylation is lost.

Regarding cancer, it has shown to be the result of a mutation in the epigenetic process creating the activation or deactivation of specific genes that should be regulated in healthy cells. Studies have demonstrated that calorie restriction can either improve the prognosis or decrease its occurrence.

One major study concerning cancer showed that hypermethylation led to the absence of specific gene functions, which resulted in breast cancer and lung cancer. The results of cancer tumors also result from hypomethylation, or the gene “turning on.”

Closing Thoughts on Epigenetics

This study of epigenetics is exceptionally involved. Without a doubt, it will take a long time for scientists to map how each cell interprets the various molecules that can attach to it and how it tells the gene to turn on or off.

Interestingly, diet and calories are proving to have a significant impact on how our cells read and tell our genes to respond. Scientists even developed what is called the epigenetic diet. This diet outlines the foods that affect how our cells interpret signals. Research backs up this diet.

Some of these foods include the following:

  • Grapes
  • Soy
  • Green-leafy vegetables
  • Green tea

Each is shown to create results in protecting against cancer and aging. They have even isolated the specific compounds in each one contributing toward this process.

While the future of epigenetics opens many doors to the treatment of cancer and obesity and slows the aging process, there is so much that we can do for ourselves. Science shows that exterior or environmental factors have a tremendous influence on how our cells respond and communicate to our genes. Eating nutritious foods and keeping our caloric intake at a proper level are key influencers. Remember, we have 100% control over our eating habits. This makes an impact on cancer prevention.


How is epigenetics being used to treat cancer? ›

Epigenetic drugs seem to work well with radiation and chemotherapy. The drugs may make cancer cells more sensitive to these therapies, making them work better and more likely to prevent cancer from coming back. Your doctor can also use more than one epigenetic drug at a time.

Can you reverse epigenetic age? ›

Engaging in regular exercise, ideally at least 4 times per week for at least 20 minutes at a time, can improve your epigenetic age.

How is epigenetics involved in aging? ›

An international study 13 years in the making demonstrates for the first time that degradation in the way DNA is organized and regulated — known as epigenetics — can drive aging in an organism, independently of changes to the genetic code itself.

How can epigenetics be used to treat diseases? ›

Combating Diseases with Epigenetic Therapy

These changes seem an ideal target because they are by nature reversible, unlike DNA sequence mutations. The most popular of these treatments aim to alter either DNA methylation or histone acetylation. Inhibitors of DNA methylation can reactivate genes that have been silenced.

What is cancer epigenetic theory? ›

The epigenetic theory of carcinogenesis proposes that the acquisition of the malignant phenotype results from error-prone copying of the epigenetic pattern when tissue stem cells divide.

Is it possible to reverse epigenetic changes? ›

Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.

Can gene therapy reverse aging? ›

Age-Reversing Gene Therapy

Previous studies have shown that partial reprogramming can reverse the aging of younger mice and prematurely aged mice. Reprogramming has also been shown to reverse the age of human skin cells by 30 years.

Can scientists reverse aging? ›

A recent study published in the journal Cell found that by making DNA repairs on mice, scientists were able to drive age "forward and backward" thus manipulating the aging process. "There is new research now showing that the aging process may be reversible," Johns Hopkins health policy expert Dr.

What is an example of epigenetics? ›

Epigenetics explains how early experiences can have lifelong impacts. The genes children inherit from their biological parents provide information that guides their development. For example, how tall they could eventually become or the kind of temperament they could have.

How does epigenetics contribute to the development of disease? ›

Disease may be caused by direct changes in epigenetic marks, such as DNA methylation, commonly found to affect imprinted gene regulation. Also described are disease-causing genetic mutations in epigenetic modifiers that either affect chromatin in trans or have a cis effect in altering chromatin configuration.

Can epigenetics be responsible for the development of diseases? ›

Incorrect epigenetic marks can result in birth defects, childhood diseases, or symptoms of diseases in other interims of life. Epigenetic mechanisms also regulate development and adaptations during the life of an organism, and their alterations may result in various disorders such as cancer.

How does epigenetic therapy work? ›

Epigenetic therapy aims to reprogram gene expression in cancer cells to achieve a therapeutic effect. To date, DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) inhibition (DNMTi) is the most effective form of epigenetic therapy, being particularly active in myeloid leukemias.

What are 3 examples of epigenetic factors? ›

  • Epigenetic mechanisms form a layer of control within a cell that regulates gene expression and silencing. ...
  • Three different epigenetic mechanisms have been identified: DNA methylation, histone modification, and non-coding RNA (ncRNA)-associated gene silencing.
Aug 8, 2022

What is the goal of epigenetics? ›

That is, the goal of bioenergetics is to describe how living organisms acquire and transform energy in order to perform biological work. The study of metabolic pathways is thus essential to bioenergetics.

Why is epigenetics important in cancer? ›

Epigenetics plays a vital role in cancer research in understanding the difference in nuclear organization, DNA methylation, and histone modification patterns between cancer cells and normal cells.

Is cancer epigenetic or genetic? ›

Cancers develop due to the accumulation of genetic and epigenetic alterations. Genetic alterations are induced by aging, mutagenic chemicals, ultraviolet light, and other factors; whereas, epigenetic alterations are mainly by aging and chronic inflammation.

What are examples of epigenetic cancer drugs? ›

They include hydralazine, EGCG, RG108, MG98, and disulfiram, etc. Those epi-drugs have slightly inhibitory effects to multiple cancer cells compared with those cytosine analogue inhibitors.

What is the conclusion of epigenetics? ›

Conclusion. Epigenetics is an inheritable phenomenon that affects gene expression without base pair changes. Epigenetic phenomena include DNA methylation, histone modifications, and chromatin remodeling.

What are the three epigenetic changes? ›

Epigenetics refers to heritable traits that are not a consequence of DNA sequence. Three classes of epigenetic regulation exist: DNA methylation, histone modification, and noncoding RNA action.

What does epigenetics literally mean? ›

The word “epigenetic” literally means “above the genes.” Its real-world meaning can depend on who you ask, but one common definition is changes in gene activity that do not involve changes in DNA sequence.

What is the treatment for reverse aging? ›

Reverse aging technology

One promising approach to reverse aging is using stem cells, which can regenerate damaged tissues and improve overall cellular function. The potential benefits of stem cells as an anti-aging therapy include cell rejuvenation, improved organ function, and reduced risk of age-related diseases.

What is the gene that stops aging? ›

The Klotho gene owes its name to this goddess because of its scientific association with anti-aging properties. By the age of 40, the human body's Klotho levels naturally decrease. Klotho also regulates a protein called Wnt5a that's been shown to advance the spread of cancerous cells and treatment resistance.

What is the reverse aging genetic disorder? ›

Progeria is also known as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS) or the “Benjamin Button” disease (named after the short story and movie 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button').

Have researchers reversed ageing in human cells by 30 years? ›

Research seems to show this is indeed possible, and scientists at Cambridge's Babraham Institute have developed a method to 'time jump' human skin cells by 30 years – turning back the aging clock but without causing the cells to lose their specialised function. Longevity.

What do scientists believe causes aging? ›

Cross-linking theory: According to this theory, aging occurs as cross-linked proteins accumulate and damage cells and tissues. Free-radical theory: This theory proposes that aging is caused by environmental free-radical exposure, which damages DNA, proteins, and lipids.

Has the first person to live to 150 already been born? ›

According to David Sinclair, director of the Harvard Medical School's Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research, it's very possible that the first person who will live to 150 has already been born. That conclusion — and the reasons for it — is outlined in this must-read article in The Harvard Gazette.

Is epigenetics good or bad? ›

Because epigenetic changes help determine whether genes are turned on or off, they influence the production of proteins in cells. This regulation helps ensure that each cell produces only proteins that are necessary for its function. For example, proteins that promote bone growth are not produced in muscle cells.

What is an example of epigenetics in humans psychology? ›

Figure 4.11: Identical twins are the perfect example of epigenetics. Although they share exactly the same DNA, their unique experiences in life will cause some genes (and not others) to express themselves. This is why, over time, identical twins come to look and behave differently.

What are the top 3 influences for epigenetics in the human? ›

The three types of epigenetic modifications explained above i.e., DNA methylation, histone modification and RNA silencing are responsible for such regulation of OCT4 gene expression.

What is epigenetics quizlet? ›

WHAT IS EPIGENETICS? Epigenetics is the study of changes in individuals, and in individual cells, caused by changes in gene expression that are unrelated to changes in the genetic code itself (nucleotide changes)

Which of the following is an example of an epigenetic change? ›

One example of an epigenetic change is DNA methylation — the addition of a methyl group, or a "chemical cap," to part of the DNA molecule, which prevents certain genes from being expressed.

What does epigenetics ultimately affect? ›

At the biochemical level, epigenetics affects transcription and ultimately the protein repertoire of a cell. The epigenetic mechanism serves four essential cellular roles: 1) X-chromosome inactivation; 2) differentiation; 3) imprinting; 4) medium and long-term transcriptional control.

Does epigenetics create new inherited genes for you? ›

Epigenetic inheritance is an unconventional finding. It goes against the idea that inheritance happens only through the DNA code that passes from parent to offspring. It means that a parent's experiences, in the form of epigenetic tags, can be passed down to future generations.

How do you get into epigenetics? ›

Aspiring epigenetics researchers who also plan to work as physicians must earn an M.D. or D.O. degree from a medical school, then complete a three- to-five-year residency in a medical specialty, followed by an additional two to three years of specialized training in genetics.

What is the role of epigenetics in cancer drug resistance? ›

Methylation and acetylation are two well-studied epigenetic events that are known to profoundly affect the expression of genes, resulting in activation of oncogenes and/or suppression of tumor suppressor genes, leading to development of cancer drug resistance.

What is the best example of epigenetics? ›

Smoking can result in epigenetic changes. For example, at certain parts of the AHRR gene, smokers tend to have less DNA methylation than non-smokers. The difference is greater for heavy smokers and long-term smokers. After quitting smoking, former smokers can begin to have increased DNA methylation at this gene.

What types of epigenetic modifications occur in cancer? ›

There are two primary types of epigenetic alterations in cancer cells, these are known as DNA methylation and Histone modification.

Are epigenetic changes potential drug targets for cancer treatment? ›

Introduction. Epigenetic changes in cancer are diverse and dynamic and are emerging as potential targets for cancer therapies. Epigenetics is defined as reversible modifications that can lead to changes in gene expression without altering the DNA sequence [1].

What is drug discovery in cancer epigenetics? ›

Description. Drug Discovery in Cancer Epigenetics is a practical resource for scientists involved in the discovery, testing, and development of epigenetic cancer drugs. Epigenetic modifications can have significant implications for translational science as biomarkers for diagnosis, prognosis or therapy prediction.


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