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

echanism that allows cells to stop growing and assume new changes in character must be of great importance," added Sarkar. "The study of cancer progression is key to understanding how cancer cells continue to differentiate."

During cancer progression, there are different stages of rapid growth and differentiation. The control that allows for this switch between growth and differentiation can only be achieved through reversible mechanisms, such as epigenetic changes.

Sarkar and colleagues have previously proposed that epigenetic changes are involved in cancer progenitor cell formation and cancer progression. They also believe that epigenetic changes have the ability to control rapid growth and change of characteristics (different grades/types of tumors).

Sarkar compares the stages of cancer growth to a rocket orbiting in space that is, that an object within an orbit continues to circle a given path, until it is given a signal (or additional fuel) to propel itself into a further orbit. This comparison can be made for cancer progenitor cells and epigenetics. A specific cell continues to grow at a certain stage until it is given a signal in this case, an epigenetic switch that propels it to differentiate into a new orbit, or further differentiated cell.

"While the specific details of the epigenetic code that regulates these changes has not been discovered, the fact that we have a possible explanation for the reversible and ever-changing characteristics for cancer progenitor cells is very exciting," said Sarkar. "Future epigenetics findings hold the key to develop drugs which could possibly kill cancer progenitor cells to reduce cancer relapse and drug-resistant cancer cells."


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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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