Researchers hoping to better understand the workings of the human brain may have a powerful new tool at their disposal. A new radiotracer used in conjunction with PET scanning is offering insights into epigenetic activity. This process is what determines which genes are expressed and which ones are not. It may play a crucial role in unlocking secrets related to a host of medical conditions while also shedding light on brain disorders and more.
The new tracer, called Martinostat, is able to allow clinicians to see expression levels of certain epigenetics that regulate enzymes in the brain. This type of test may, for example, enable researchers to better understand why some people who are predisposed to a disease, for example, are protected against it. It may also open the door to determining whether it might be possible to reprogram gene expression in the brain to make predisposition less likely or reverse certain conditions once they arise.
Although still very much under study, the new PET radiotracer presents with some exciting possibilities. Researchers have used the test on healthy patients so far, but are now turning their attentions toward those with neurological and psychiatric disorders. The hope is Martinostat will enable greater understanding of how these conditions manifest. It is also hoped to help shed light on possible new therapies to treat genetic conditions once they arise.
Being able to understand why certain genes switch on in some people, but not others could give clinicians a powerful edge in fighting a host of diseases down the road. For example, gaining insights on why some women with BRCA genetic mutations form breast cancer and others do not may pave the way for more effective interventions. By gaining a greater understanding of epigenetics, researchers may also be able to devise ways to stop these genes from expressing in the first place. For now, the breakthrough is quite preliminary, but the potential the radiotracer offers when combined with PET scans is encouraging.