June 30, 2008

Possible Cause of Late-Onset Disease Found

U.S. scientists say they might have found the genetic cause of so-called late onset diseases.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University discovered epigenetic marks on DNA -- chemical marks other than the DNA sequence -- change over a person's lifetime and the degree of change is similar among family members.

The scientists suggest that overall genome health is heritable and that epigenetic changes occurring over one's lifetime might explain why disease susceptibility increases with age.

We're beginning to see that epigenetics stands at the center of modern medicine because epigenetic changes, unlike DNA sequence that's the same in every cell, can occur as a result of dietary and other environmental exposure, said Dr. Andrew Feinberg, a professor of molecular biology and genetics and director of the Epigenetics Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Epigenetics might very well play a role in diseases like diabetes, autism and cancer.

The research is reported in the June 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.