The science underlying our patented tests rests on a solid core of research findings funded by the National Institutes of Health that have been reproduced by dozens of independent laboratories (see publications). In brief, our tests detect both subtle and not-so-subtle effects of tobacco, alcohol, cannabis and other drugs on the metabolism of white blood cells.
Figure 1. Smoking alters the methylation (CH3) status or “on/off” status of genes. This change in the “on/off” status is closely linked to addiction and other diseases. Our patented assays focus on the most critical portions of the genome – the promoters – genes closely associated with key health outcomes.
The toxic effects of drugs and alcohol have prominent effects on the performance of white blood cells. For example, as most people appreciate, smoking cigarettes is associated with changes in the cardiopulmonary system including bronchitis, high blood pressure and heart disease. Many of these pathologic changes are caused by the direct toxic effects of the chemicals on cells of the immune system-especially white blood cells. In order to counteract these chemical effects, white blood cells reprogram their genome in order to produce enzymes to metabolize some of these toxins and inflammatory factors to signal other cells to help in their efforts.
In order to achieve this reprogramming, cells do not change their DNA sequence. Rather, the turn off or on key portions of the genes, referred to as “gene promoters” which control the amount of enzymes and inflammatory factors produced. Our state of the art tests detect this relatively stable “epigenetic” reprogramming by measuring the changes in the amount of accessibility as denoted by the level of DNA methylation in key genes of critical metabolic and inflammatory pathways. In general, higher levels of DNA methylation are found in the inactive genes while active genes tend to have lower levels of DNA methylation (See Figure 1).
The greater amount and duration of substance use, the greater is the amount of change. The first of these new patented assays, Smoke Signature,™ exactly measures the level of methylation to determine the number of cigarettes consumed by the patient. The dynamic range of the test is extremely high and can quantify the amount of smoking in both nascent and heavy users. The results of the test are relatively stable. It doesn’t really matter if use hasn’t occurred in the past several days, the signature will be there cannot not masked by any drug. With heavy use, a portion of the signature can last for years. Finally, because of the test relies on DNA, adulteration or contamination of any sample can be easily detected.