As today’s healthcare becomes more precise and personal, providers will need new and creative ways to deliver the health care of tomorrow.
To that end, Augusta University’s College of Nursing has launched its Family Epigenetics Program (FEP) to conduct family epigenetics research and integrate new technologies and research discoveries into modern health strategies.
The driving force behind the FEP, said Dr. Pamela Shiao, associate dean for research in the College of Nursing, is a new emphasis on “omics”* technology and epigenetics research. The program’s end goal is to help individuals and families determine – on a case-by-case basis – how best to care for themselves taking into account any family history of disease and their own genetics.
*(Omics is a catch-all term for the fields of biology ending in –omics, such as genomics or metabolomics.)
“Personalized healthcare will benefit those living with multiple chronic health conditions that impact across generations,” Shiao said. “Using epigenetics, which are known to affect cancers, heart disease and congenital defects, the FEP envisions that new, precision-based health strategies will optimize access to healthy living globally.”
The FEP’s mission is to promote better health strategies through the use of both clinical and translational epigenetics studies. That approach, which will ultimately result in populations receiving personalized care “tailored” to them, is quickly becoming a staple of modern healthcare.
What are Epigenetics?
If the human body were, say, a computer, then our genes would be the software that defines us. They influence our personality. They determine what color our eyes are. Conversely, they also determine what colors our eyes can see. But like the software on a computer, sometimes our bodies forget what’s installed.
Over the course of our lives, our genes can “tag” themselves to switch on or off to better adjust to conditions within the body. (e.g. A child who experiences starvation during pregnancy and early in life, for example, may have a greater likelihood of dying from obesity-related cardiac disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and adipose-based chronic diseases because certain genes relating to fat storage may have tagged themselves to “switched off”). This process is referred to as epigenetics. Interestingly, though, modern research has shown that these on-and-off “tags” can be passed from parent to child.
While this can sometimes be beneficial, it can be also be dangerous.
Genes passed from the parent that might otherwise have been dormant (say, a gene that increases the risk of becoming diabetic) can sometimes “switch on” (express themselves) in children if they were previously switched on in the parent.
Determining which “tags” our bodies have, then, has become an important undertaking, especially when talking about a family history of disease.
What is being done as part of the FEP?
- Family epigenetics intervention studies in chronic diseases such as: Metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer
- Access to omics public datasets, including five NIH-funded projects
- High impact research publications in multidisciplinary journals including the use of big data analytics
- Education and training, including seminars, workshops, consultation and collaboration
For more information about the Family Epigenetics Program, contact the College of Nursing Center for Nursing Research at 706-721-3162.