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Diagnostics Genetics and epigenetics, Technology and innovation, Biochemistry and molecular biology

The Impact of COMET

At a Glance

  • Epigenetics is a factor in a wide range of diseases, but we lack effective ways of examining or treating epigenetic dysregulation
  • Current approaches require either administering treatment to the whole body or making genetic modifications to the cells you want to target
  • Chemical optoepigenetics – the use of light-controlled small molecules to target the epigenome – could provide an alternative
  • There’s still work to be done before the method hits the clinic, but ultimately, it may open up new avenues for research and treatment

The more we learn about epigenetics, the more we see its involvement in a plethora of human diseases. Gene dysregulation plays a role in cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, developmental disorders, and more. But the epigenome presents a challenge – how do we address its failings in diseased tissues without disrupting the careful balance of regulation in healthy ones? Our current methods aren’t sufficient; the few epigenetic drugs that have received approval treat the whole body, risking epigenetic changes in undamaged tissues. Even targeted approaches are difficult, as most require the introduction of a genetic modification before they can be applied. But what if we had a way to precisely control epigenetic gene regulation using nothing but small molecules and visible light? We propose a new approach known as COMET that might provide exactly that.

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About the Authors

Ralph Mazitschek

Ralph Mazitschek is Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, Co-Director of the Chemical Biology Platform at the Center for Systems Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Assistant Professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, USA.


Stephen J. Haggarty

Stephen J. Haggarty is Associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, Associate Neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Human Genetic Research, and the Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital, Chemical Neurobiology, Boston, USA.

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