Epigenetics is the study of how, why, and when genes express themselves. You can think of epigenetics as the operating manual that tells genes when to turn on and off (to grow more hair in puberty, for instance). Our environments influence epigenetics, meaning that genes will express themselves differently depending on external factors, like what we eat, our habits, and the places we live. Epigenetics explain why, for example, identical twins who have the same genes can look different, especially as they age. It’s because each twin has different environmental experiences that affect how his or her genes get expressed, making one twin taller because she gets more sleep, for instance.
Why do epigenetics matter to cancer research? Because the epigenome also has a role in how and why certain genes mutate, or when they do, why the body doesn’t catch these mutations. Epigenetics is a new science, and as researchers learn more about how the epigenome works, they are better able to understand many of the mutations that cause cancer. CureSearch’s Acceleration Initiative researcher Dr. William Weiss studies the epigenetics of medulloblastoma to discover better treatments for the disease. Read more about his work here.