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'Smothered' genes combine with mutations to yield poor outcome in cancer patients
Date:7/15/2008

ups and interferes with the gene's normal protein production, setting the stage for a lethal cancer.

Some 189 mutated genes in breast and colon cancers, previously identified by a Kimmel Cancer Center research team, were screened for methylation by Baylin's group. They found 36 genes that were infrequently mutated in cancer, but were "hyper"methylated, often in both breast and colon cancers. After reviewing samples from 30 breast and 20 colorectal cancer patients as well as information from public microarray databases, the researchers found 18 of these genes that were strongly linked to poor outcome of patients with tumors carrying these changes.

For most of the genes, the researchers were able to reverse their epigenetic change and reactivate them in test tubes by stripping off excess methyl groups. This suggests that new treatments designed to reverse hypermethylation could be a simpler and more practical approach to treating cancer than strategies that attempt to replace, deactivate or compensate for mutated genes, according to Baylin.

Baylin also believes that the methlylated genes identified in this study could be inactivated in a broader range of cancers as well. That means the current findings could be extended to other cancers, improving the ability of physicians to predict the course of additional types of tumors, he says.

"We've learned from this study that we must include both genetic and epigenetic changes when we do future microarray analyses to increase our understanding of the genetic basis of cancer," Baylin says. "Such information will provide new details about why cancers start and help us identify which cancers will be particularly aggressive in our patients."


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Contact: Vanessa Wasta
wastava@jhmi.edu
410-955-1287
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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