Tag Archives: health

Work in progress – awesome video clips themed on the early origins of chronic disease

I have already blogged about the developmental origins of disease: why you are what you eat, what your parents ate and how it’s never too late to change your genes. This blog in an ongoing project to collect great video clips related to this phenomenon because it is important to learn about how to get our message across as researchers. Let me know if you have any more for me to add along the way. Here goes. Click on the images to play the video clips.

Social media Revolution” by Evan Kutsko

socialmediaThis clip is from a marketing company but you get the message – engage with people through social media. Some of the facts contained within this clip are stunning. Here is a slightly different version on YouTube

“The Mother ‘Hood” from Similac

The message is that parenthood in general is much more important than how you raise your children.

motherhood

“What happens in the womb can last a lifetime” by Beginbeforebirth.org

BBBNarrated by non other than Sir Robert Winston and focusing on maternal stress and supporting bot parents during pregnancy. The You Tube version can be found here.

“Charlie’s Story” from Beginbeforbirth.org

charlieAn example of a possible effect of early life stress on problem behavior (on the same page as the “what happens in the womb” clip).

“Brain Hero” from The Alberta family Wellness initiative

Brain2Great animation that shows how family, community and policy makers can change the course of a child’s development.

“How brains are built – the core story of brain development” from the Alberta family Wellness initiative

Brain1Another great animation on the same theme as above.

“Tipping the scale towards positive outcomes” by the Royal Children’s Hospital and The Frameworks Institute

FrameVisualising how genetic and modifiable environmental factors can interact to influence the “see-saw” of risk for chronic disease.

“Epigenome: the symphony in your cells” from the journal ‘Nature’, Feb 2015

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.48.42The genes are the instruments and epigenetics is how they are played.

“Too young to drink” by Fabrica

TYTDA powerful message against drinking alcohol in pregnancy.

Launched on September 9th 2014, on the occasion of the International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Day, #TooYoungToDrink is a new communication campaign to raise awareness of the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy conceived by #Fabrica for the European FASD Alliance.
FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) is a range of problems caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol which can include birth defects, learning disorders, behavioral problems, and mental illness.
For further information: tooyoungtodrink.org

“Gene’s Eye View” from Baba Brinkman

GIVGreat rap about genetic mutations, disease and evolution from the album The Rap Guide to Medicine. Ingenious.

The Sugar of Death (S.O.P) from Dunk The Junk

dunkthejunk4

Another way that hip-hop is being used to target messages to our youth about the harmful effects of junk food.

“The story of Gravida” by Gravida New Zealand

grav“From the mouth of babes” How New Zealand is aiming to understand and reverse the early origins of noncommunicable disease

“The Ghost of Earth Day” by Master Shift

maxresdefaultMore about saving the planet than Early Life Origins but a great concept that the traditional owners of the land are ashamed of our current lifestyles. Maybe for DOHaD, the Native American could be replaced by “The Ghost of Children Future”? This wold say that we will be haunted by our future children if we don’t look after own health.

“Health research: making the right decision for me” by the Nuffield Foundation

medres

Great clip explaining to children about what it means to participate in ethically-driven research. See also here for more details

‘Little Things Matter – the impact of toxins on the developing brain’ by the Canadian Environmental Health Atlas

LTMThis clip explains how ‘small’ amounts of heavy metals and other toxins can have a significant effect on population health, with a focus on exposure of young children.

More to come…

Other resources

The Raising Children network: award-winning web site supporting all aspects of child health

Gravida: a New Zealand government-funded Centre of Research Excellence that brings together leading biomedical, clinical and animal scientists from across New Zealand and around the world.

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Epigenetics: from Greeks to geeks and leaks

Epigenetics, a word that seems to have stirred up disagreement between scientists for so long, is currently experiencing a rebirth and may have applications for the prevention of many different human diseases.

Starting at the beginning, the word ‘epigenesis’ was coined by the Greek philosopher Aristotle over 2,200 years ago because he was sick of the theory current at the time that we all start out as microscopic versions of our adult selves. He believed that all complex creatures grow from a simple fertilised egg or seed though to a mature organism through stages of development and differentiation: out of the simple comes the complex. This idea is widely accepted as true today.

Aristotle Jump forward just over 2,100 years and we come across a man with possibly the longest name in scientific history: Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck. Let’s just call him Lamarck. He proposed that the way an organism adapted to its environment would somehow be passed down the generations. Two generations later, Charles Darwin liked Lamarck’s idea and went further, proposing an idea of his own – ‘gemmules’ – minute granules that are ‘thrown off’ by our tissues. Gemmules, he proposed, could multiply and travel to our eggs or sperm sex cells through which they could be passed on to future generations.

lamarckDarwin

 Step forward another 75 years and followers of Darwin thought they knew it all – evolution occurs by natural selection through random changes in our DNA that have enabled us evolve and adapt over millennia. And that’s that. Then Conrad ‘Hal’ Waddington came along and stirred things up by turning ‘epigenesis’ to ‘epigenetics’, which he used to describe the way in which our genes interact with their environment to make us what we are. In this sense, epigenetics means literally ‘the factors on top of our genes’. Waddington was a man before his time.  Between then and now, arguments have raged about whether nature (genes) or nurture (environment) are more likely to influence our health and behaviour. The truth, exemplified by a recent book by Matt Ridley entitled ‘Nature via Nurture: Genes, experience and what makes us human’ is, like Waddington suggested, a combination of the two.

waddington2Today, epigenetics now describes the set of small molecules that sit ‘on top of our genes’ and choreograph when and how they act. This in turn directs our development from the zygote to the grave. Epigenetic molecules can be encoded by our DNA and they can be added or removed in response to our environment. Nature via nurture. Another way of looking at it is that in the symphony of life, epigenetic molecules are the musicians that play the genes as instruments and together they make up a huge orchestra of thousands of working genes. Alone, genes are silent; they need musicians to play them.

orchestraHowever, controversy still exists about what we can actually label as ‘epigenetic’. Some say that epigenetic changes need to be long-term, lasting for many cell generations, while others have shown that some epigenetic marks can change within a single cell’s lifetime. Some geeks say that the epigenetics should be tightly linked with its molecular definition and others that it should be loosely applied to how an organism adapts to its environment.

Arguments aside, epigenetic changes are most likely lie behind a recently recognised phenomenon call the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. Known in short as ‘DOHaD’, the idea is that our experiences in the womb and early childhood can ‘program’ our future health. It is likely that epigenetics is part of the programming language involved. An oft-cited example of this in humans is that sixty-year-olds who were in their mother’s womb at the time of the Dutch Famine in the Second World War, not only had poorer heart health than their siblings but also had an epigenetic imprint of this experience stamped on a handful of their genes.

Animal studies reveal a similar story. In rats, a mother’s licking and grooming behaviour influenced subsequent stress levels in the offspring, mediated by an epigenetic change to a gene involved in stress response. Newborn rat pups whose mothers spend time licking and grooming them grow into calmer adults, whilst pups who receive little maternal attention tended to grow into more anxious adults. Grooming altered the pattern of epigenetic marks, which in turn altered gene activity of the stress regulator gene. Critically, when neglected rats were treated with a drug that alters these epigenetic marks, both their anxiety and the accompanying epigenetic changes could be reversed.

Such findings have huge implications for medicine, the largest being that if we can reliably detect epigenetic changes that in early childhood signal a risk for diseases such as cancer, heart disease, autism or diabetes, we can start to prevent these diseases by intervening early. This is the area I find most exciting, but we have a long way to go to the clinic for most of these. However, we can take heart from cancer research, which has already supplied a small number of epigenetic tests that can predict severity or response to treatment in some cancers.

Finally, it seems that in principle, Lamarck and Darwin may also have been on the right track after all. There is accumulating evidence that the environment our mothers and even our fathers encountered before we were a twinkling in their eye may be passed onto us in the form of a risk for conditions such as obesity, diabetes or anxiety. Studies of a remote Swedish village have shown that food abundance in grandparents correlate with the health of their grandchildren. Another found that sons of men who smoked just before puberty were more likely to become obese. However, neither of these has yet been linked with an epigenetic change. Could it be that epigenetic marks can ‘leak though’ to us via eggs and sperm? There is recent evidence that this can happen in animals that has people in some very high places invoking Lamarck.

NN lamarckWe still need to discover how such factors could pass into the eggs and sperm and how these changes would survive two major life stages at which the epigenetic ‘whiteboard’ is wiped almost clean. This usually occurs just after fertilisation when a newly-formed zygote wants to shed its sexual origins and become a new human being and when the opposite happens, when a group of cells early on in development want to put on the sexual cloak and become eggs and sperm. However, I said ‘almost clean’, which leaves the door open in principle for these barriers to be breached. An attractive, emerging idea borrowed originally from plants is that small epigenetic molecules, in form of the “messenger” genetic material – ribonucleic acid (RNA) – can be shuttled into eggs or sperm and be inherited by the next generation, and survive the epigenetic cleaning. Watch this space.

 

Epigenetics resources

Web sites

Epigenetics Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah

The Nova documentary on epigenetics originally aired in 2007

Instant expert: epigenetics’ from New Scientist magazine

Epigenetics explained‘ by Scientific American

Awesome animations and short documentaries

The epigenome at a glance‘from the Epigenetics Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah (01:46)

Lick your rats‘ interactive game from the Epigenetics Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah (takes about 5 mins to lick a couple of rats)

Insights from identical twins‘ from the Epigenetics Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah (04:41)

‘X inactivation and Epigenetics’ by Etsuko Uno and Drew Berry from WEHI TV (11:04)

Epigenetics Overview‘ by Cell Signaling Technologies (02:14)

Epigenetics: what makes us who we are?‘ from Begin before Birth (04:10)

What happens in the womb can last a lifetime‘ from Begin before Birth (02:24)

Epigenetics‘ – a short documentary from the Science Show on DNATube (09:26)

Resverlogix movie about epigenetic drug RVX-208 (03:32)

Charlie’s Story – can we improve crime rates by supporting vulnerable women during pregnancy and the first 2 years of their baby’s life?‘ from Begin before Birth

Articles – basic

Epigenetics’ by Brona McVittie (2006)

‘Evolution, Epigenetics, and Maternal Nutrition’ by Asim K. Duttaroy (2006)

‘Why Your DNA isn’t your destiny’ from Time Magazine (2010)

Epigenetics: promising field delivers (2013)

Articles aimed more at undergraduates

Epigenetics: the sins of the father’ from Nature magazine (2006)

‘Taking a chance on epigenetics’ (2014)

Books

epigenetics revolutionorigins2genome generationidenitcally different

Further learning

Marnie Blewitt’s Coursera online course on epigenetics

Epigenetics 201: the four Rs