Let’s take a closer look at how genomics could change and extend lives.
Advances in medical technology, drug discovery, and longevity research have been revolutionary in healthcare and human cryopreservation over the last number of decades. As the fastest-growing cryonics organization in Europe, Tomorrow Bio draws on inspiration from medical and technological innovations. This aids in its learnings, techniques, and human cryopreservation procedures. New scientific discoveries provide us with greater insight into significant aspects of health, medicine, and causes of death—and genomics is a crucial area that has yet to reach its full potential.
The field of genomics has seen a huge rise in development over the years. Genomics researcher Swaine Chen once stated that the same level of advancement in computing that took 40 years to achieve, happened in just 4 years in genomics. Incorporating facets of DNA, genetics, technology, diseases, and more, genomics is a highly complex and varied topic—so let’s unravel it.
Genomics is the study of a person’s complete set of genes (a genome), how they react with each other, and with the individual’s environment. The goal is to understand how the combined influence of genes and their relationship with one another impact the growth and development of an organism i.e. a human body. Genomics is often confused with genetics—the study of heredity—which looks at the functioning and makeup of a singular gene. Genetics is useful when looking at how certain traits are passed down from one generation to the next. Genomics, however, is geared toward complex diseases such as diabetes and cancer, as they are typically caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, rather than individual genes.
A genome is a huge collection of genes inside every cell of an organism. A person’s genome is the code that cells use to know how to behave. For example, cells interacting with each other make tissues, tissues interacting together make organs, and organs cooperating together make an organism—aka, you.
Genes are made up of DNA, which itself is made up of 3 billion base pairs, or letters, known as Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine (A, T, C, and G). In medicine, genome and DNA sequencing determine the exact structure (sequence) of a DNA molecule (A, T, C, and G), allowing doctors to learn more about an individual’s molecular biology. Sequence changes in genes can determine whether a person has freckles, is lactose intolerant, has color blindness, and so on. Studying the genome also allows researchers to understand how certain complex diseases like cancer and diabetes form. This could lead to new ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent ailments, rather than treating patients with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Genetics and genomics both play pivotal roles in health and disease. Genetics help individuals learn how conditions like cystic fibrosis are inherited in families, and, for some genetic conditions, what treatments are available.
Genomics is helping researchers understand why some people get sick from certain infections, environmental factors, and habits, while others don’t. For example, there could be individuals who exercise every day, have a healthy diet, get regular medical checkups, and die of a heart attack at age 40. Elsewhere, there are people that may engage in unhealthy habits and live to be 100. It’s believed that genomics might hold the key to understanding this discrepancy.
This knowledge is also invaluable to cryonics organizations and longevity research. Cryonics companies always encourage members to lead a healthy lifestyle to avoid conditions such as cardiovascular or metabolic diseases. The reason is that the quality of the cryonics procedure often depends on how well the brain and the body can be perfused. These conditions can reduce or block the speed at which blood travels around the body, which could make the cryopreservation process more difficult. Although genetic factors come into play, individuals can strive their best to control what’s in their power, such as healthy eating, and maintaining stress, so that their bodies respond optimally.
Cancer and ischemic heart diseases constitute the majority of health problems in Europe and around the world. With further advancements in genomics, these ailments could be met with better diagnostics, more effective therapeutic approaches, and clinical efficacy for the patient and the medical practitioner. With this in mind, let’s take a look at four examples of genomics in action today.
Diagnostic tests are typically used when a medical practitioner has reason to believe that a patient may have a particular genetic condition. The tests yield yes or no answers and can help differentiate between two or more conditions that present similar symptoms.
When the clinician suspects the patient to have a known condition, they will look at a specific gene variant or a small panel of genes associated with the disease. However, as there are cases of undiagnosed and rare diseases, a targeted approach isn’t always possible. In rare or undiagnosed cases, a genome is sequenced and run against various panels of gene variants connected with diseases to hopefully give the best chance of a diagnosis.
Predictive tests determine whether someone may be susceptible to a particular condition before they are displaying symptoms. People can order these tests privately, but they are more often used when a genetic condition has been diagnosed in a family. Doctors can test other family members if they wish to determine who else might be affected.
Types of clinical predictive testing are used in two scenarios. Firstly, if the gene is associated with a condition that can be treated or if the risk could be reduced with lifestyle changes and regular medical screening. Secondly, if the condition is severe and not actionable, it would be important to know the risks associated with the disease before making decisions, like having children.
Pharmacogenomics is a newer application of genomics. It is the study of how a person’s genetic makeup determines their body's response to certain medications. The information obtained by doing this type of testing can show whether a particular medicine is effective and how likely it is to cause side effects. When understanding the effectiveness of a particular drug, clinicians can also consider other factors like a person’s age, weight, and any other medical conditions that could impact the treatment and dosage type.
In the UK, it’s believed that drug interventions are only about 30-60% effective in patients, and 1 in 15 UK hospital admissions is linked to an adverse drug reaction. The continued use and development of pharmacogenomics can aid more accurate drug prescriptions, therefore reducing unnecessary side effects, and saving time and money on ineffective medicine.
Cancers arise from harmful variations in a person’s genes, known as mutations. These mutations can be acquired spontaneously throughout a person’s lifestyle and from certain exposures, such as chronic smoking and radiation. It typically takes mutations in multiple genes to occur before a cell turns cancerous.
Thanks to advances in genomic medicine, scientists have the ability to take cells from a cancerous tumor and test the genome to identify which genes have mutated. By sequencing the DNA, doctors can decide whether a tumor cell can be treated, or if further research is required.
Genomics is considered a very fast-evolving branch of science with many promising possibilities that would lead the way to preventing and managing diseases. Let’s take a look at a couple of exciting developments happening in the field.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that develop into specialized ones, or remain in their unspecialized state and replicate. Currently, stem cells are widely studied in all fields of medicine and science because of their potential to treat multiple incurable diseases.
Embryonic stem cells are found in the embryo and are able to divide into more stem cells or can go on to develop any type of cell in the body. Medical researchers are investigating the use of stem cells to repair or replace damaged body tissues—similar to whole organ transplants. Embryonic stem cells can develop into every type of tissue in the human body i.e. skin, liver, kidney, blood, and so on.
Adult stem cells originate from more fully developed tissues, such as umbilical cord blood in newborns, bone marrow, or skin. These cells are more limited in potential, for example, stem cells from the liver may only develop into more liver cells. Right now, bone marrow transplants are used as a form of stem cell therapy to help treat blood-related diseases, such as leukemia. Advancements in the field could see further stem cells being used to repair injured tissues or even to allow for the lab creation of personalized organs to replace irreplaceable tissues.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (aka CRISPR) is largely considered one of the greatest scientific advancements of recent years. This gene editing technology involves cutting DNA sequences at specific locations to change or ‘edit’ them. In doing so, it either deletes an old sequence or inserts a new one. As DNA is at the core of many genetic diseases and defects, removing it at its origin could lead to revolutionary treatments for these diseases.
Since its discovery, CRISPR has also sparked a lot of commentary and ethical debates. Could scientists edit a human embryo, creating the so-called ‘designer baby’? Could an entire species be wiped out if society doesn’t deem it useful? Aside from the ethical noise, it’s believed that individuals diagnosed with cancer, blood disorders, diabetes, HIV, and more, could benefit from this precise editing technique. What’s more, a significant part of the aging process is controlled by genes. If this gene activity could be controlled through CRISPR, then slowing down, pausing, or even reversing the aging process could be possible.
Cryonics aka human cryopreservation is an advanced medical procedure that allows a person to be preserved and stored for an indefinite amount of time after their legal death. The goal is that someday future medical technology can cure their cause of death so that they will potentially be revived. Although technology doesn’t exist right now for a revival, the focus at Tomorrow Bio is to improve the techniques used for the procedure and long-term storage, so that members are in an optimal position to be restored in the future. It’s also safe to say that the brightest minds in science are working to create solutions to diseases that exist today, giving us a chance at an extended lifespan.
The long-term success of the cryogenic procedure is not only dependent on a high-quality procedure. It also hinges on the ability to cure the cause of death and rejuvenation so that a person is revived in the best condition possible.
It’s believed that if technology has advanced enough to revive a person then it’s certainly probable it will be able to overcome issues associated with aging and other diseases. However, aging (unsurprisingly) is one of the most challenging diseases to tackle. While most diseases require a treatment targeting a specific organ, gene, or parasite, all the cells in the body undergo the aging process. With this said, it’s suggested that by the time a cryonics member wakes up in the future, the cure for aging will already exist. So you may be revived with a centuries-old chronological age, yet your biological age could be much, much lower.
While this remains a distant possibility for science, right now, cryonics remains the best option for an extended lifespan.
The role of genetics in health care is starting to change and the first examples of genomic medicine are upon us. As treatments become more effective against diseases like cancers, heart diseases, and aging, it brings society one step closer to an extended lifespan.
Tomorrow Bio believes that we are at the edge of discovery. The advancements in science also serve as an exciting reminder to our members of a future world that will be shaped by today’s innovative technology.
If this article piqued your interest, then why not take a look at some more exciting reads on Tomorrow Insight? Feel free to chat with us too on Discord where we talk all things cryonics!