JUL 14, 2022 12:00 PM PDT

Using Worms to Study Precision Medicine

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Personalized medicine refers to making decisions about treatment that are optimized to a specific individual, often as a result of their genetics. Given genetic-related advances, such as sequencing the human genome, the opportunity to tailor medical treatment has become a promising way to lead people towards better health. The development of artificial intelligence tools, in particular, holds great promise for the study and development of personalized medicine.

Unfortunately, our genes are only part of the story. What we eat and the environments we live in all shape our body’s metabolic processes, which also plays a crucial role in our own personal health. Metabolic processes are essential processes that help us break down food and turn it into energy. Unfortunately, no two people share the exact same metabolic processes, making it difficult to tie together the effects of genes, environment, and diet on metabolism. 

To better understand these interconnected factors and their differences between people, a team at the University of Massachusetts Medical School designed a study to examine the ways metabolism varied between individual organisms. Their model organisms? Nematode C. elgans. The team’s efforts are published in a recent article in Nature

Specifically, the research team used four separate nematode strains (all of which already had their genomes sequenced) to represent four unique “individuals,” each with their own unique genetic makeup. C.elgans are common in various types of health research, such as aging. Then, the researchers created an environment where, despite these genetic differences, the nematodes lived in the environment and consumed the same diet.  

Researchers identified various metabolites through a series of experiments. Further analysis revealed about 200 metabolites that were specific to each worm. Researchers were able to follow certain metabolites and their presence to specific genes, revealing ways the nematodes genetic makeup impacted metabolic processes.

So what’s all this got to do with personalized medicine? Above all else, researchers noted that their study highlights a way to model and study how metabolic processes change between individuals with highly individual genetic makeups. The result could be more precise treatments for patients, including dietary interventions that are tailored to an individual.  

Sources: Science Daily; Rutgers; Nature

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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