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Molecular discovery points to new therapies for brain tumors
Date:4/15/2010

HOUSTON - A class of brain tumor that tends to emerge in younger patients but is less aggressive than others can be identified by examining DNA methylation of a specific set of genes, scientists at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and colleagues with The Cancer Genome Atlas report today online at Cancer Cell.

The national research group discovered that hypermethylation is a defining aspect of secondary glioblastomas, malignancies that have progressed from lower-grade tumors. Patients with these glioblastomas survive longer after diagnosis than those with other types.

"Discovery of molecular factors that define subgroups of glioblastoma will help us identify new therapeutic options for patients," said study co-senior author Ken Aldape, M.D., professor in the Department of Pathology at M. D. Anderson. "In this case, therapeutically altering the methylation state of the tumor's genes might be a new avenue for treatment."

Altered methylation of DNA in cancer is generally thought to promote tumor development, Aldape said. When methyl groups, consisting of one carbon and three hydrogen atoms, attach to sites called CpG islands in a gene's promoter region, the general result is to shut down the gene, although other factors affect gene regulation. On balance, methylation is thought to have a greater effect in silencing tumor-suppressing genes.

'Remarkably detailed insights into cancer'

Methylation is an epigenetic process; it affects gene expression without damaging or altering the gene's DNA sequence. The Cancer Genome Atlas is a joint initiative of the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute to increase understanding of cancer genetics.

"Such findings are critical to the detection and treatment of brain cancer based on the genetic or epigenetic profile of each patient's disease," said Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director at the National Insti
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Contact: Scott Merville
smerville@mdanderson.org
713-792-0661
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Source:Eurekalert

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