We loved it because it provided a deep dive into the importance of epigenetics and epigenetic sequencing as a strategy for early detection of age-related diseases. While this is a nascent field, it is developing quickly and there is good reason to believe that this type of genetic sequencing will become a standard tool in our longevity toolbox.
What is epigenetics?
It is the science of how your DNA is controlled and your genes are expressed. Our DNA is hereditary and therefore fixed. Think of your DNA as your master blueprint from which every single cell in your body gets built. It defines the “what” your organism is going to build. Epigenetics is focused on the “how,” the way the DNA instructions are read and expressed. Gene expression (genes can can be "on" or "off") can be affected by many external & environmental factors.
Epigenetic data can be very useful in the context of preventive medicine because it changes in line with health over long periods of time. This allows for early detection of chronic diseases that tend to develop slowly as is the case with many age-related chronic conditions. And that would be a major game changer for healthcare, since preventable chronic diseases account for 70% of healthcare budgets worldwide.
What's the application?
By periodically reading and analyzing how your epigenetic information you start developing a picture of how your health is evolving over time. Minor changes in gene expression can be biomarkers that allow for the detection of degenerative diseases. This opens the possibility of deploying preventative measures in time to delay or avoid disease altogether.
Epigenetic sequencing stands in contrast to the genomic analysis you can get from companies like 23andMe. Genomic sequencing is useful to know if you have a variant that has been identified as a risk marker for certain diseases.It is also helpful to determine if certain types of pharmaceuticals can be processed well by your organism.
But since your genome is static, this type of DNA analysis is not as helpful in tracking your health over time like epigenetic analysis does. As Stubbs explains:
"genomics and epigenetics provide complimentary forms of data and they have different utilities, but when it comes to prevention of age-related and chronic conditions,there’s an incredible amount of information that you can get at using this epigenetic data type and paradigm that is completely masked from somebody’s genetic layer."
For example, you may be genetically predisposed to have a certain condition like heart disease. That means your risk might be 4x that of someone who does not have the DNA variants associated with this condition. However, when you factor in age as well as environmental and lifestyle factors, the risk profile from lowest to highest might be 5,000 times apart. This means that for many conditions the majority of the risk factor can be explained by epigenetics, not genomics.
The goal of Chronomics is to provide people with access to health-risk information well in advance of the onset of disease. This will give them the power to take preventative action to significantly reduce their risks, independent of their underlying genetics.
According to Stubbs, Chronomics is to his knowledge the only company currently offering saliva-based epigenetic sequencing to provide people with preventative health strategies.
What makes Chronomics unique is the next-generation sequencing technology they use. As Stubbs explains in the interview, most of the genomics companies that have become well-known in the market (eg. 23andMe, Ancestry), only sequence certain parts of your genome where genetic variants are likely to be found.
By contrast, Chronomics uses a new sequencing technology that does not rely on either chips or genetic arrays as the genomics companies do. This allows them to capture much richer data from your genome.
Additionally, Stubbs point out:
“What really sets Chronomics apart is that we have derived a health biomarker engine utilizing the knowledge and experience of our team of scientists... [ and we can now] take this science of epigenetics and these biomarkers that we can derive from this data, and provide it to people.”
We are excited to see how this company and the broader epigenetic sequencing space evolves. It feels lIke a very tangible path for us to get a better understanding of our health so we can take action towards better outcomes.
Listen to the full podcast here.
Learn more about purchasing your epigenetic sequence from Chronomics here.