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Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions

How does this approach differ from gene editing and epigenetics?

A copy of the entire human genome — more than 20,000 genes — is contained in every one of our body's cells that has a nucleus. When the information stored in DNA is converted into instructions for functional products such as proteins, the process is called gene expression. This expression is critically regulated by the packing structure of chromatin, which is the intricately and densely folded three-dimensional organization of the genome.

Gene editing involves inserting, deleting, or modifying DNA inside the genome of a living organism. Epigenetics studies the link between environmental factors in the regulation of the expression of genes packaged within our chromatin. Epigenetics involves modifying the nucleosome, a basic unit of DNA packaging. Physical genomics, on the other hand, involves altering the structure of chromatin - the three-dimensional genome organization - to regulate whether and to what extent many different genes are collectively expressed. It doesn’t involve the editing of single genes — it deals with overall global patterns of gene expression and is, therefore, reversible.

What is physical genomics?

Physical genomics is a new field that seeks to understand the relationship between the structure and function of the genome and its underlying fundamental principles. With this understanding, scientists can have the ability to regulate, control, and reprogram global patterns of gene expression. Physical genomics provides the ability to impact organismal outcomes without altering an organism’s genes themselves.

How is this new or different?

For the first time, researchers are able to take a new, physics-based approach to understanding the basic global processes operating within the genome of living organisms. CPGE scientists and engineers have developed revolutionary new super-resolution imaging and nanosensing technologies and new computational modeling techniques that allow us to understand the function of the genome and its fundamental principles, and in turn, use that knowledge to develop ways to reversibly regulate and reprogram global patterns of gene expression.

What does it meant to reprogram global patterns of gene expression?

Instead of altering the genes themselves, which can be thought of as the body’s “hardware,” we alter the chromatin’s structure, which can be thought of as an “operating system.” A rough analogy can be found in macroeconomics: when the Federal Reserve lowers the interest rate, it does not translate into a financial decision made by one individual person. But it does create the conditions for lower mortgage rates, which then encourages more people system-wide to take out mortgages and purchase homes. In a similar fashion, the goal of physical genomics is not to edit this or that particular gene, but rather to create global genomic conditions which will influence chromatin structure in a way that leads to the desired outcome.

What are the potential breakthroughs for this field?

The impact of this emerging field is expected to be widespread — from treating diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease at their most fundamental level, to improving crop yields and mitigating the impact of climate change on plants. Indeed, as every living organism is ultimately defined by its genome, there may be applications across many fields and in many living systems.

How does physical genomics work in treating cancer?

In one of the first applications of this technology, CPGE scientists targeted chromatin packing scaling in order to limit a cancer cell’s transcriptional landscape and thus its ability to evolve resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs. This technique, called Chromatin Protection Therapy (CPT), produced highly promising results. When used in combination with current chemotherapy drugs in both laboratory cell cultures and in live animal models, the technique eliminated virtually 100 percent of cancer cells in seven different types of malignancies with no effect on non-cancer cells.

When will this be ready for patients?

This is an emerging and very cutting-edge field of science, and researchers are just beginning to explore its potential. While early data is promising, further studies are needed before human clinical trials can begin. CPGE is working hard to accelerate the pace of discovery and marshal these breakthroughs from lab to bedside as quickly as possible.

Is this technique unsafe or dangerous?

Chromatin packing is a natural and necessary feature of the nucleus which allows cells to begin expressing certain genes that are normally suppressed when needed (for example, turning on genes so wind-chapped skin can rejuvenate itself, or so the liver can break down fats), and vice versa. But this same great power of chromatin can be “hijacked.” Such changes can be benign, but often manifest themselves as diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, and diabetes. By understanding the fundamental relationship between the structure of the genome and its influence on the functioning of the gene transcription process, we can use this innate power of chromatin to design techniques that will safely and reversibly regulate genome structure and gene expression to prevent this genomic "highjacking", without making any changes to an organism's genes themselves.

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