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Cancer's distinctive pattern of gene expression could aid early screening and prevention
Date:7/27/2009

AUGUSTA, Ga. Distinctive patterns of genes turned off or left on in healthy versus cancerous cells could enable early screening for many common cancers and maybe help avoid them, Medical College of Georgia scientists say.

Researchers are comparing chemical alterations, called DNA methylation, in the body's basic building block in healthy colon, breast, brain and lymphatic cells and their cancerous counterpart to find telltale patterns that could one day be detected in the blood, urine or feces.

The patterns could give patients a heads up that lifestyle changes, or more severe intervention, is in order, says Dr. Kapil Bhalla, director of the MCG Cancer Center, Cecil F. Whitaker Jr., M.D./Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Cancer and Georgia Cancer Coalition Scholar.

DNA methylation is a piece of a relatively new research field called epigenetics that looks more globally at which genes are turned off and on with an eye on early identification of some of the aberrant adjustments that enable cancer cells to thrive. Epigenetic changes actually are more common than the genetic mutations long known to put people at risk for cancer and other diseases and they are probably inherited as well, Dr. Bhalla says.

The early and apparently significant role of epigenetics in cancer has made the field a focal point for centers such as the MCG Cancer Center, which recently recruited two new epigenetics researchers with the help of the Georgia Cancer Coalition. The second floor of the three-year-old Cancer Research Center building, which is being finished with the help of $3.5 million from the Georgia Research Alliance, will house the Georgia Genomics/Epigenomics Center. In early 2008, the National Institutes of Health established an epigenomics program to coordinate such efforts to better understand how this method of gene regulation fits into normal development, aging, learning and memory as well as its role in cancer, obes
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Contact: Toni Baker
tbaker@mcg.edu
706-721-4421
Medical College of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert  

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