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Cancer's potential on-off switch
Date:5/15/2014

A team of Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) researchers have proposed that an "on and off" epigenetic switch could be a common mechanism behind the development of different types of cancer. Epigenetics is the phenomena whereby genetically identical cells express their genes differently, resulting in different physical traits.

Researchers from the Boston University Cancer Center recently published two articles about this in Anticancer Research and Epigenomics.

The current paradigm states that cancer develops from environmental and genetic changes to cancer progenitor cells. These changes are the result of mutations, exposure to toxic substances or hormonal imbalances.

Cancer progression is extremely complex, however. It also is well known that new mutations and the activation of more cancer causing genes occur throughout the development and progression of cancer.

"If we believe that everything in nature occurs in an organized fashion, then it is logical to assume that cancer development cannot be as disorganized as it may seem," said Sibaji Sarkar, PhD, instructor of medicine at BUSM and the articles corresponding author. "There should be a general mechanism that initiates cancer progression from predisposed progenitor cells, which likely involves epigenetic changes."

The existence of this epigenetic switch is indirectly supported by the fact that tumors develop through different stages. When cells rapidly grow during cancer progression, they become stuck in their current stage of development and their cell characteristics do not change. This is the reason that there are so many types of leukemiathe characteristics that a leukemia cell possesses when it begins to rapidly grow and expand are the characteristics that it will keep until the rapid growth stops.

"If we believe that all of the irreversible changes, mutations and effects of carcinogens make cells rapidly grow, then the m
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Contact: Jenny Eriksen Leary
jenny.eriksen@bmc.org
617-638-6841
Boston University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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