DecodeME Study blog: From DNA to drug development. Five success stories show the potential of DecodeME


How do you find treatments for a disease like ME/CFS, where nothing is known for sure about its causes?

One way scientists can now look for answers is with very large DNA studies, like DecodeME. This fairly new approach is already giving insights and pointing to treatments for a range of illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis, type II diabetes and even severe Covid.

The clue lies in our DNA

DecodeME will use small differences in the DNA of people with ME/CFS to look for biological causes of the disease.

DecodeME will use small differences in the DNA of people with ME/CFS to look for biological causes of the disease.

Tiny differences in our DNA can help pinpoint what’s going wrong in our bodies. And understanding what’s going wrong biologically is the starting point for finding treatments.

DNA is the master molecule of life, storing all the information needed to make and run the human body. The information is stored in DNA using chemical letters. There are only four letters, but our DNA contains a sequence of 3 billion of them, like a very long book.

Mostly, our sequence of letters is exactly the same as those of the next person. But for around a million positions in the book (fewer than one in every one thousand), the letter can differ from person to person.

Scientists then compare these DNA letter differences between people with an illness, such as ME/CFS, and healthy people. Often, they find that a few of these differences are slightly more common in people with a particular disease than those without it.

These DNA differences, perhaps only a dozen or two, are clues to what is going wrong in an illness.

Here are five examples where the differences found by big DNA studies have helped scientists to understand the biological causes of an illness and to develop treatments.

Summary: 5 big DNA study successes

Big DNA studies are still relatively new and the science that drives them is developing all the time. But these five examples show the power of the approach.

  1. In rheumatoid arthritis, it led to ongoing development of new drugs that aim to tackle the root of the problem.
  2. It led to the discovery that several autoimmune diseases could be treated with drugs already developed for other diseases.
  3. In Type II diabetes, a surprising discovery led to development work on a new drug.
  4. In Alzheimer’s disease, DNA research indicated that researchers should look for answers in the brain’s “support cast” of cells.
  5. And in Covid-19, the most devastating illness to strike the world in over 100 years, a DNA study has already provided powerful clues to scientists looking for life-saving drugs.

Looking for answers across human biology

One of the main advantages of big DNA studies is that they look across all 3 billion letters that make up the DNA book of life. This means that they are effectively scanning the whole of human biology.

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This is particularly important for a disease like ME/CFS where we know so little – you don’t even need to know what you’re looking for.

There are no guarantees with any research study, but we hope that DecodeME will make a big difference.

First, we need to find 20,000 people to take part. If you would like to be one of them, please sign up and you can be first in line when we start recruiting in the autumn.

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