Good news for epigenetics: cancer and malaria drug resistance:
Recently I was writing about work that implicated epigenetic effects in speciation, hence fertility and evolution.  It would seem that epigenetic effects are getting their day in the sun. 

There is more: the title of a recent article (Cancer’s Epicentre ECONOMIST vol. 403 no. 8779 April 7, 2012 page 89) had recourse to a pun.  There was a meeting on April 1, 2012 in Chicago of the American Association for Cancer Research.  Studies presented by Dash Dhanak, James Bradner and Stephen Baylin describe work on developing a cancer treatment working through the epigenetic control systems of the cancer cells rather than the underlying faulty genes.  In principle, such an approach might be quite specific and quite effective. 

Another article (Ian H. Cheeseman et al A Major Genome Region Underlying Artemisinin Resistance in Malaria SCIENCE vol. 336 no. 6077 April 6, 2012 page 79) indicates that drug resistance of the malaria parasite (artemisinin is the drug) is mediated by an epigenetic mechanism.  Malaria of course is a terrible scourge.  It kills a half million (if you count proven cases) to a million (if you include probable cases) children a year.  It would be nice to get rid of it.  Malaria is a disease of poverty.  Rich people don’t get it, if nothing else because nobody likes getting bit by mosquitoes and rich people can take steps to avoid it.  If there is no mosquito bite, there will be no malaria. 

As the world gets richer … well the world was getting richer; I am no longer quite so sure … the disease should vanish.  But speeding up the process is a matter of the greatest urgency.  Speed the process up a year and save a million and more lives.  The specter of increasing drug resistance is not welcome.

On a more selfish note, the places where malaria rages tend to be the places where the fertility is highest.  That means those are the places where there is the best chance to stabilize fertility before catastrophe is inevitable. 

There is another possibility which I shall address in a few days, but for proven method you can’t match the poorest of the poor.  One can only hope we all get smart before they get rich and stay rich and ignorant for too long.

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