The TransGeno ERA Chair team is conducting cutting edge research in 4 areas:
Personalised medicine, Translational medicine, translational genomics, individualised medicine are different terms that imply application of innovative technological advances using high throughput genomic and transcriptomic analysis tools to understand the basis of disease and variation between individuals to respond to diseases as well as therapies.
Advances arising from the Human Genome Project, gave the hope that in the near future scientists can understand the genetic components of common and complex diseases, leading to a shift in clinical practice from treatment based on symptoms to treatment based on the underlying causes of disease. Although all the puzzle pieces of our genetic make-up may have been identified, still the goals of personalized medicine have not been fully attained. Scientists and clinicians now have the formidable task of interpreting how they fit together in order to apply the genome map to patient care. The hope is to further advance our understanding of the function of different physiological systems in health and disease and to be able to tailor diagnostic, prognostic and treatment tools to individuals.
The TransGeno ERA chair laboratory is focusing its efforts in this regard towards skin and fertility disorders. We are doing so by combining genomics, transcriptomics and epigenomics together with our current understanding and advances in physiology and pathology of healthy and diseased tissue to create new diagnosis and treatments for Psoriasis and Embryo implantation disorders.
Epigenetics is the study of potentially heritable changes in gene expression that does not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence. In other words, a change taking place in the phenotype without a change in the genotype. Epigenetic alterations are very common and their occurrence is a natural phenomenon. However, different factors such as age, disease, lifestyle and environment can affect their occurrence.
The field of epigenetics is fast expanding and with it the understanding that both the environment and individual lifestyle directly interact with the genome to influence epigenetic alterations. These changes may be reflected at various stages throughout a person’s life and even in later generations.
The current interest in epigenetics has opened many avenues for research to understand the association between epigenetic alterations and a variety of diseases such as cancer, mental disorders, immune disorders (including autoimmune diseases) and congenital disorders. Currently, it is thought that epigenetic modifications occur through three different mechanisms, i.e., DNA methylation, histone modification and different types of non-coding RNA.
The TransGeno ERA chair lab in Tartu is seeking to understand how epigenetic cues can affect cellular function in health and disease. Our efforts are directed towards epithelial tissue and how the function of these tissues in skin and reproductive organs are affected by epigenetic mechanisms. For example, to understand how non-coding RNA and in particular MicroRNA regulate skin and reproductive functions in health and disease.
The other important subject of research in the TransGeno ERA chair laboratory is to explore and further understand the concept of Epigenetics, Innate Immunity and Intercellular Communication interactions together and the use of this knowledge to create diagnostic tools for further improvement and translation of our findings from the lab to the patient bedside.
Innate immunity refers to the initial general defenses mounted by an individual against pathogens and hostile microorganisms. Innate immune reactions are generally nonspecific and are fast. As the Epithelia is the first barrier between the individuals and the outside environment, it plays a key role in mediating innate immune system reactions and function. Skin and the reproductive and respiratory systems are good examples of organs in constant contact with the outside world, rich in epithelia and being the main hubs of the innate immune system.
In our daily life, we encounter billions of pathogens and non-pathogenic microorganisms and substances. It is our innate immune system that in a short period of time decides to mount a reaction against a non-self-entity or not. On the other hand, even mounting too much of a reaction towards non-pathogenic entities can result in creating an allergy or if it is mounted against self-entities, can result in autoimmune disorders. Hence, in health and disease, the innate immune system is responsible for maintaining a balance between defensive reaction towards hostile entities and tolerating non-pathogenic and self-entities.
The TransGeno ERA chair lab researches how innate immune system is working in the skin and reproductive organs in a bid to find new diagnostic tests as well as therapies for both skin diseases such as Psoriasis or reproductive disorders such as infertility.
Intercellular communication refers to the communication between cells. These can be the cells of an individual or in some cases between the cells of two different individuals. For example, communication between spermatozoa with fallopian tube cells or spermatozoa interactions with oocyte leading to fertilization and creation of an embryo.
Cells interact and signal each other through different means and methods. These signals can be via chemical cues and in a targeted or a general manner. Recently extracellular vesicles have been identified as potential means of communication between different cells. Extracellular vesicles are very tiny packages that may carry different cargos such as proteins or genomic materials. These tiny bags are nearly the size of viruses.
The TransGeno ERA chair laboratory is the first lab in Estonia to be equipped with Nano-particle tracking analysis equipment for characterization of extracellular vesicles. Research is currently ongoing to understand the role that extracellular vesicles play in intercellular communication in heath and disease and the potential of using extracellular particles in developing new diagnostic as well as therapeutic means for skin problems as well as diagnosis and treatment of infertility.