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What is Gene Therapy?
Gene therapy is a method for altering genes in your body’s cells to treat or stop the disease. This is usually done through biological intervention.
Your body’s form and function are dictated by your genes, which are the code that controls much of your body’s functions. The disease can be caused by genes that don’t work properly.
Gene therapy is an attempt to cure a disease by replacing a faulty gene with a new one. Gene therapy can be used to treat a wide range of diseases, such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, diabetes, hemophilia, and AIDS. Meditation on healing our genes has now come into play with new research.
Why gene Therapy is done
The goal of gene therapy is to replace defective genes with healthy ones so they will produce proteins needed to keep organs working normally. For example, people who lack one copy of their CFTR protein may be able to get two copies if researchers add extra copies of this gene into their bodies. This could help them breathe better. People with sickle cell anemia might benefit from replacing missing globin genes.
Fixing mutated genes. Mutated genes that cause disease could be turned off so that they no longer promote disease, or healthy genes that help prevent disease could be turned on so that they could inhibit the disease. (mayoclinic.org)
Although this is a fairly new concept in the world of science and medicine, it holds a lot of validity for possible future treatments of many ailments.
Gene therapy for SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) Treatment:
SMA is a genetic disease that attacks the central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, and skeletal muscle (voluntary movement). Plainly put there is a miscommunication that occurs between the spinal nerves and the muscles in a person with SMA and this leads to neural signals not reaching these muscles.
SMA forms part of the neuromuscular diseases and has a great effect on our motor neurons, which control the way our muscles functions at an optimal level. These motor neurons or nerve cells start to deplete and therefore lead to muscle to atrophy, or get smaller since there is no stimulation of the muscle. The rate of atrophy then quickly leads to muscular dystrophy, where the tissue or organ wastes away.
Treatment options are two different methods of gene replacement therapy through an IV drip. Nusinersen (Spinraza), onasemnogene abeparvovec-xioi (Zolgensma), and risdiplam (Evrysdi) are administered through an IV drip dependent on the patients type of SMA (SMA1. SMA2, SMA3, or SMA4). These genes give the human body instructions for making a protein that helps with the survival of motor neurons and controlling muscle movement.
Meditation and Our Genes – Meditation Healing
Anybody that practices Meditation will tell you of its many mental and emotional healing properties – but what if meditation has physical healing properties too.
When we meditate that ‘feel good bodily sensation’ must come from somewhere…
Recent studies suggest that Meditation and other Mindfulness-Based Interventions such as Tai Chi and Yoga do not only relax us but change us on a cellular level by reversing the molecular reactions in our DNA, that cause illnesses or mental conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Meditation and Epigenetics:
Epigenetics is referred to external factors, such as our environment, that can alter our DNA and gene expression.
We are all born with certain genes but this does not mean that every gene we have is expressed – even if it is included in our DNA as a genetic code. In laments terms, our genes can switch on and off when in certain environments.
Diet, lifestyle, the country and climate we live in, the activities we do, and the toxins we expose ourselves to can all contribute to the way our genes are expressed and the possibility of developing genetic diseases. Meditation acts as an environment we put our minds and brains in (and our bodies) which we can control – so it forms part of that epigenetics list.
A study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison confirmed genetic changes in test subjects following a day of mindfulness meditation. These meditators showed a range of genetic changes after eight hours, including reduced levels of inflammatory genes, indicating they had enhanced their ability to recover from physical stress.
The inflammatory genes that “switched off” in the test subjects are the same genes often targeted with anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs. The meditators also showed more rapidly declining cortisol levels following mentally stressful stimulation in comparison to the control group.
Meditation and Biohacking – How can meditation change our DNA?
A very basic example would be related to age and how meditation biologically keeps us younger. Chromosomes are protected by strands of DNA called telomeres.
Telomeres, as a basic function, keep our chromosomes alive. Once the telomere deteriorates the chromosome also does and dies off. This naturally happens every day and these cells get replaced by new cells. Ultimately us aging is our telomeres shortening and our cells dying off. We naturally lose a million cells every day as a result of them dying off but this rate could be greatly decreased.
People that live very stressful lives have shortened telomeres – stress is therefore directly related to aging and overall health.
As we already know meditation reduces our stress levels by lowering our cortisol this also protects our telomeres and chromosomes which results in protecting our genes and DNA.
Meditation, although on the list of epigenetic factors, cannot prevent or cure a disease it affects our overall health.
This is precisely where the term ‘mind-body’ really rings true as it fundamentally changes our physical bodies as well as our minds, in connection, over time.
“These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, [mind-body interventions] cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.”
Meditation has also proved to alter and improve our immune systems as it changes the chromosomes responsible for inflammation.
A study done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Massachusetts showed that the flu vaccine worked better for people who did an eight-week course MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction).
When a person experiences a stressor, their sympathetic nervous system is activated, which in turn, increases the production of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B, which regulates how our genes are expressed.
In short-term, this fight or flight response is necessary to get us out of stressful situations and protect ourselves but if persistent, chronic stress can cause inflammation at the cellular level and an increase in cytokines, which can cause cancer and other diseases, but it can also be useful for a short-lived fight-or-flight reaction.
The study suggests that people who practice MBIs exhibit the opposite effect — that is, a decrease in the production of cytokines and a reversal of the pro-inflammatory genes.
Genes are fundamental in not only keeping our physical body functioning but also regulating our emotions and thoughts – similar to what mindfulness does.
Both long and short-term meditation practitioners had differences occur in genes involved in metabolism, inflammatory processes, oxidative stress, and DNA damage response. In most cases, these results were correlated with reduced stress and fatigue, decreased depression symptoms, and improved immune response.
Genes, Stem Cells and Meditation – How meditation alters our blood
Bruce Lipton, a doctor specializing in stem cell research, explains that our cells are determined by the environment they live in – which is our blood. The constitution of our blood determines if the cells would become muscle, fat, or bone and result in how our genes would respond or express themselves.
So what controls the blood?
The brain controls the chemistry of our blood and what the brain puts into the blood is a direct relation to what picture is playing out in our mind. Through mindfulness and meditation, a new picture can form, and therefore our blood and gene expression is altered as there are new chemicals, neurotransmitters, and neural pathways released and formed.
This puts a whole new spin on the saying “what we think and believe – we become”.
For example, let’s take the idea of being in love…
If you are sitting there with your eyes closed and you open your eyes and see someone you love, your mind holds a picture of love. A picture of love in the mind is translated by the brain into very specific chemistry. In a state of love, the brain releases dopamine for pleasure into the blood. The brain releases oxytocin into the blood, which is a chemical that helps us bind to the source of love that we are experiencing.
The experience of love also releases another chemical into the growth medium—into the blood—called vasopressin. It helps us become more attractive so that our partner sticks with us even more. Another very important factor released by our brain while perceiving love is growth hormone—which, by its name does exactly what it says: It influences our growth. That result is that the chemistry of the body’s natural culture medium—blood—is adjusted by the perception of the mind.
Ultimately meditating is an act of love and these same chemicals as mentioned above (oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine) are released by the brain. The opposite happens when we experience fear – our stress and inflammation response rise and our blood composition changes.
Surprise surprise so does our genetic expression.
Is meditation placebo?
A very clear example can be the placebo effect. Fundamentally this is a positive belief where you formulate your truth (even if it is not true in reality) in order to have a positive outcome. The result is that your biology becomes complementary to your mind and its perception, hence the nature of the placebo effect.
A negative belief is just as powerful in shaping our biology, neurological functions, and genes.
Meditation however can aid in changing these negative beliefs to positive ones through introspection. Alongside the idea of neuroplasticity (which refers to developing new neural pathways), we can alter the way we think and perceive future situations, and as a result how our physical body reacts to this both inwardly and outwardly.
The chemistry that determines our biology, genetics, behavior, and life characteristics is chemistry derived from the brain which, in turn, is derived from the brain interpreting an image in our mind. As we change our mind, we change our biology.
This is the foundation of something called spontaneous remission. A person is about to die of cancer. There is a sudden and unexplained reduction in the amount of activity. What do you think happens when this happens? The cure is due to the patient having a profound change of belief in the cause and effect of their lives. The mind changes the nocebo effect (a negative belief creates a negative outcome) to a placebo effect and we start letting go of the stresses. Releasing those stresses can cause spontaneous remission. The power is in the mind, not in the body. Our consciousness is translated into biology via the chemistry of the natural culture medium called blood.
Genes are made to change – if they weren’t we would not be able to survive when the environment around us changes, and this changes all the time. Through homeostasis, we are constantly adapting to our external environment and at a basic level, the same things happen internally.
Every internal function and process is controlled by the brain and when we can change the way our brain operates through mindfulness practices we can change everything else.
This is easier said than done but even just a few minutes of practice per day makes a huge difference. It is quality over quantity. Creating a steady habit of mindfulness integrated into our daily lives is far more beneficial than trying to meditate for hours once in a while.
Many habits are derived from instincts but this does not mean they are unchangeable. You create a habit through learning. For example, walking is a habit – we have learned how to do this. Similarly, we can learn to change our thoughts and think differently to see things differently and therefore act differently. The greatest teacher is through turning inwards and noticing what is happening in our minds through meditation.
The great part is as soon as something becomes a habit it becomes second nature – you don’t have to think about it anymore, Obviously, this can be both positive or negative.
If we can slow down our heart rate through meditation then slowing down the rate of cellular activity is possible too!
In conclusion, there is much potential in using meditation techniques to help with gene therapy. There is just as much research still to be done on this topic but knowing the vast possibilities and effects meditation can have on our minds, brains, bodies, and cells is truly fascinating and extremely empowering.