Genetics, Epigenetics & Lifestyle

November 19, 2018 Joe Brady

Integrative Medicine Network Forum, 2018 – Genetics, Epigenetics & Lifestyle: Another Twist

Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Harvard Medical School

November 16th, 2018

As technology advances in the field of genetic engineering here is great excitement about the idea of “personalized” medicine in which treatments can be tailored to individual patients’ genes.

Research is also showing that the expression of genes is not fixed, but can be modified by environmental factors and lifestyle factors and that these modifications can be passed down to future generations. Genetic modifications like passing along the genes of alcoholism can be harmful, however exciting new research is suggesting that self-awareness, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, exercise, lifelong learning, and other health behavior changes can improve gene expression patterns and lead to healthier outcomes.

The keynote speaker was the professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, George M. Church, Ph.D. Professor Church is known for pioneering the fields of personal genomics and synthetic biology. His team invented CRISPR for human stem cell genome editing and other synthetic biology technologies and applications – including new ways to create organs for transplantation, gene therapies for aging reversal.

Professor Church did a review of the major methods on modifying gene expression using gene-editing techniques like CRISPER as well as well known gene modification techniques like caloric restriction, known to modify the genes that control aging itself by modifying dietary factors. Modifying and enhancing genetic expression will be a godsend when it comes to treating genetic defects and diseases like cancer but professor Church noted that for most people without rare genetic diseases gene expression is more easily modified with lifestyle techniques. Professor church noted that a lot of high technology, big money researchers are going to feel quite silly if it turns out that our ancestors were right and diet, exercise, and meditation are the most cost-effective ways to upgrade our genetics and live longer healthier lives.

Great Short Talks and Panelists

Kathryn T. Hall, Ph.D., is a molecular geneticist and an Assistant Professor in Medicine at HMS 

Dr. Hall’s area of excellence is in the pharmacogenomics of placebos and supplements, with an emphasis on aspirin and vitamins in cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention. Response to placebos and supplements vary widely across individuals, and new evidence, from her group and others, suggests that genetic variation plays a key role in the response magnitude. 

Olivia Okereke, MD, MS is a Board-certified geriatric psychiatrist and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Okereke’s research goals are: (1) to identify modifiable risk factors involved in adverse mental aging and (2) to translate and apply knowledge gained into strategies for large-scale prevention of late-life depression and cognitive decline.


Manoj K. Bhasin, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Associate Senior investigator at Benson-Henry Institute (BHI) for Mind-Body Medicine in Boston.

Dr. Bhasin is an experienced genome and systems Biology investigator with a strong track record in computational vaccine design, functional genomics, proteomics, and systems biology his group identified that NF-kB—a key immune system regulator—and its upstream and downstream pathways as central in the response to mind-body approaches. His group has also used the power of BigData and Genomics to develop evidence-based next-generation Ayurveda and supplement formulation for the management of multiple chronic diseases.

John Denninger, MD, Ph.D. is Director of Research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

His research focuses on answering two questions about mind-body medicine interventions: (1) Assessing how well these interventions can help to promote wellness in a broad range of people and (2) determining how these interventions work, by exploring details of the mechanism from genes, to biochemistry, to physiology, to brain activity.

Our own research on behavior change

In addition to many other great breakout sessions, discussion groups and poster presentations our own research was devoted to behavior change in the community.

A Pilot Study of Complementary and Integrative Medicine in Community Health Education

Principle Investigators

Joseph Brady M.S.T.C.M, L Ac., Dipl. O.M. Adjunct Professor,  Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Jacqueline Shumway  M.A. Lifelong Learning Site Coordinator, University of Denver, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute



Modern research has documented the potential contribution of complementary and integrative medicine practices to promote and support health literacy and empowerment in health promotion.,,  Authors conducted a pilot study aimed to determine the feasibility and acceptability of a lifelong learning program using a series of public education lectures with a complementary and integrative medicine approach to improving critical health literacy.


To meet the needs of a variety of stakeholders of older adults, clinicians, practitioners, and/or policymakers, the primary outcome measures used were from the RE-AIM (Reach, Efficacy, Adoption, Implementation, and Maintenance) health promotion evaluation framework. Older adults were recruited to attend a series of public lectures featuring content from the preventive medicine approaches of traditional Chinese medicine.  

Using an “open-label” design, data for the RE-AIM evaluation was collected using a mixed methods approach including questionnaires, evaluations, focus groups and interviews with stakeholders. This is a pilot study, therefore, no behavioral change or program maintenance data was collected.


Overall, the program was effective for all four of the RE-AIM criteria measured. The ability to reach the target audience was evidenced by Emails sent to 5600 to older learners in the Denver area. Recruiting a representative sample of 434 older adults (26% male, 74% female. Ages ranged from 29-94. Average age was 71). Effectiveness: 42 participants signed up for classes. Group A, 20 participants, Group B 22 participants compared to an average of 18 students per class in non-related classes. Adoption of the program was shown when sponsors were in favor of continuing with a larger study in the future. Seminar content was considered acceptable by the stakeholder’s groups. Logistical concerns in the implementation of the program indicated a few areas where improvements can be made.


Preliminary evaluation of the program suggests that the program is feasible and acceptable to implement and that it can provide credible, evidence-based information on complementary and integrative medicine to an interested public. A larger controlled trial is warranted.